Split - Review
I left the theater for Split very confused.
Split is the latest in M. Night Shyamalan's comeback, beginning with last year's excellent The Visit (which I reviewed here on 4outof5). Split's central idea is similar to The Visit: The idea of the familiar suddenly becoming unfamiliar, however it does not work as well here as it did then. The audience is pulled in from the very beginning, with no time to examine characters before they are thrust into a life threatening situation. This means we don't have a chance to bond or get to know these characters at all until they become either the protagonists or antagonists of the film. What I believe The Visit did so well was to leave you in mystery as to who the real threat was and the nature of their evil. Split shows you its cards right off the bat, and follows them very strictly. This counteracts the thrill of films like The Sixth Sense, in which a major twist changes everything we thought was true. In Split, the twist comes right at the beginning, leaving for a fairly unremarkable thriller with a few good elements that help it to stand apart.
Unlike in The Visit's young leads, the three actresses who are kidnapped by James McAvoy's Kevin are far from endearing. While I certainly don't mean to compare the two films in every capacity, Shyamalan showed his amazing ability to get stellar performances out of younger actors in The Visit, which I was expecting more of in Split. Two of the girls are completely flat, never developing, changing, or really accomplishing anything for the entirety of the film. The third captive, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who starred in 2015's excellent horror film The Witch, is a much more engaging character. She is clearly the focal point of the film, and her story is often touching, uncomfortable, and confusing. Despite an interesting set up for her character, and the final act putting her back up against a wall, the film ends before we get a chance to see how she changed from the experience, which is a shame, as she was one of the most interesting parts of the film. James McAvoy is often incredible as Kevin Wendell Crumb, the man whose body harbors 23 personalities. He shows considerable range when switching between personalities, and is clearly the highlight of the film. Despite this, he often comes across as comical, almost like a cartoon villain, rather than a real man with a real disorder. This detracts from the reality aspect of the film, which only deteriorates as the film continues.
Split doesn't offer too much stylistically, other than its extremely talented cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis, who worked on the perfectly unsettling It Follows. His camerawork is an excellent addition to the film, and often saves scenes that could have looked silly and turns them into something darker and more mysterious. For those wondering if there is the famed "Shyamalan twist", all I will say is this: If you are a fan of Shyamalan's movies, you will be deeply satisfied with Split's ending.
Split is far from perfect: It struggles to balance tension with humor, and often comes across as comical. Thankfully, the film is saved by an always adaptable James McAvoy, and an intriguing story.
Pros - James McAvoy, Cinematography, Ending
Cons - Often confusing, Missed opportunities in girls' stories, Sometimes comes across comical