“Split” is classic M. Night Shyamalan

Grade: C-

Verdict: “Split” has some effective tension, but largely passes up on opportunities to up the ante.

This movie isn’t, uhm, good? But we’re dealing with M. Night Shyamalan, so who really cares about such labels. The only important questions are “is it fun?” and “what’s the twist?” The latter I won’t answer to keep all the spoiler-shy at bay, but to the former I say: eh, I guess.

Upon waking up in a locked bedroom (a kinda nice bedroom, as far as kidnapping goes), abductees Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and outsider Casey (the lovely Anya Taylor-Joy) discover that their single-bodied captor may in fact be several people, all different identities trapped in the body of Kevin (James McAvoy).

We don’t ever get all of Kevin’s body’s inhabitants I think I counted five out of 23. Dennis is our main boy, an uptight clean freak in glasses, flanked by stern Patricia in a turtleneck and nine-year-old Hedwig, a cute little goob who’s not well liked by the other “alters,” as they’re called. The girls interact primarily with them, sadly. Figuring out the identities provided much of the film’s fun, and I would have liked to have met some others.

Barry, a gay stereotype with a love of fashion design, is the alters’ primary connection to Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), Kevin’s psychiatrist and apparently the only person in the world who believes that the 23 identities are all individuals and not just pieces of Kevin’s personality. She believes that people with dissociative personality disorder have the ability to change their body chemistry through sheer force of will, which is how the mysterious “Beast” comes into play.

So, yes, there’s a lot going on here, some of it effective and some of it super lame. None of the above are spoilers, since it’s all pretty well laid out in the trailer. Perhaps that’s one of reasons “Split” didn’t win me over. Despite all its twisty potential, anyone with a lick of sense who’s seen the trailer can put the pieces together pretty quickly.

Of course, you can still enjoy a movie even if you guess the twist (“Goodnight Mommy,” anyone?), but “Split” is short on all that formal goodness. The performances are fine, but not award-worthy. Taylor-Joy is consistently good and McAvoy embodies his personalities nicely, smoothly transitioning between personas and twitching delightfully when need be.

There are a few sequences of tension, but there’s a lot of wasted potential. For example, the girls are all split up for a bit, and Marcia and Claire are just abandoned by the narrative, left unreferenced for a long time. The “group splitting up” is a standard and effective horror trope, and I don’t get why Shyamalan decided to leave it unexplored. C’est la vie, I suppose.

Also, someone please talk to me about the ending, because I literally don’t understand how I’m supposed to take the climax. Casey’s final battle, with whom I will not spoil, ends in an expected but still really weird way. I understand what happens but I’m not sure if it’s morally gross or not. Please help.

Other than seeing it just to explain that to me, I can’t, in good faith, recommend you see “Split.” At least not in theaters. It’d be a fine addition to your next M. Night party.

 

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