Shyamalan fails to thrill with ‘Split’

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M. Night Shyamalan is an interesting figure within Hollywood. From both a critical and a commercial perspective, Shyamalan has had quite a few more downs than he has had ups, but fortunately, his most recent film “The Visit” from 2014 was one of his surprising ups. The film seemed to be more of a self-satire than a serious horror/thriller film, and looking at “The Visit,” as well as some of his more notorious blunders, with this type of lens really opens up a big question: Is Shyamalan at a point in his career where he recognizes his massive flaws and actually uses them to his advantage?

With the moderate success of “The Visit,” Shyamalan’s next picture, “Split,” approached with heightened expectations. Unfortunately, “Split” neither delivers on the kooky, self-aware nature of some of his more recent films nor presents us with a true, suspenseful thriller like Shyamalan’s earlier work. Instead, we get a mostly boring waste of time and opportunity that, aside from a few moments, really could be done without.
The film stars James McAvoy as Kevin, who suffers from having and maintaining 23 different personalities and people within his one body. The plot revolves around two of Kevin’s less desirable personalities taking over his body and kidnapping three young girls for the purpose of some real sinister shenanigans that are revealed as the film progresses.

The biggest issue taken with the film is apparent around the halfway point. Kevin is supposed to have 23 different people within his body, but do not expect anything brilliant or creative to come out of the possibility of having someone with such a severely split psyche showing the difficulties of maintaining each. Rather, we get McAvoy playing out the same three personalities that hooked everyone in the trailer for nearly the entire film, which not only is a wasted opportunity but really dampens the tension of the movie. Sure, it is explained why this is, and even though it makes a relative amount of sense (in Shyamalan’s strange, misguided eyes), it still does not make up for the fact that these three personalities are not very interesting or compelling.

Besides the missed chance to do something worthwhile with the premise, the film itself, for the most part, is one tedious scene after the next. The film never really seems to build up to anything, and when it thinks it does, it is more disappointing than anything.

McAvoy does the job well, but it all seems rather wasteful for him to put his all into a performance that is so flimsily stitched together by such aimless writing. It is difficult to really pinpoint exactly why this film exists. It does nothing but paint a shadow around mental illness and further cements the idea that Shaymalan really is kind of clueless and that his successes are mostly flukes. The film maintains Shyamalan’s awkward direction, meaningless, flashy camera angles and pointless dialogue that is seen in many of his past failures such as “The Happening” or “Lady in the Water.” However, where those films were endearingly bad, “Split” is simply bad.

It truly is a shame to see Shyamalan fall back to his clumsy, silly ways and definitely not for the better. “Split” both had a chance to be a genuinely unsettling and meaningful film or oppositely another hilarious and goofy ride like “The Visit,” but once again, Shyamalan comes up empty. It is this inconsistency that will always keep Shyamalan out of the bright lights of Hollywood. If only Shyamalan would embrace his zaniness rather than try and ignore it, maybe films like “Split” would either fall to the wayside or actually be made to be worthwhile.

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