There is a certain expectation when viewing an M. Night Shyamalan film. He is the modern master of suspense, but has been so inconsistent that you don’t know which identity will show up. Will it be a well written, Hitchcockian film, or a sloppy, disappointing mess? Perhaps the anticipation of which Shyamalan shows up will be enough to satisfy your thirst for entertainment, but it was merely a distraction for me.
Art imitates life as Shyamalan takes on DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) as the centerpiece of his latest attempt to thrill and chill. Kevin (James McAvoy) has 23 distinct personalities, all competing for his attention. Collectively called “the horde,” they range from a 9-year-old boy to a proper British woman, and some are more docile than others. When Dennis kidnaps three young women as an offering for the looming 24th personality, it is a struggle for survival and escape.
McAvoy is fantastic in a role that was originally intended for Joaquin Phoenix (I would have loved to see that). He is a young boy, an old lady, a gay fashion designer, a ruthless pedophile and a scared man who knows he is mentally ill all in one. Now, we don’t get a chance to see all 23 personalities (or is it 24?) but the ones we do meet are meticulously created and acted. McAvoy puts on a clinic in what certainly was a whole lot of fun for him to perform.
The sparse supporting cast is comprised of three scared young women and an elderly psychiatrist, but our lead is Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). She teases a secret from the very start of the film, as there is something not quite right about her stoic demeanor. We are treated to a narrative description of DID through the eyes of Dr. Fletcher (veteran actress Betty Buckley), who is treating the afflicted man and attempting to break through his disorder to find the real Kevin.
Shyamalan is an interesting writer/director. About a third of his films are fantastic, a third are disappointing and the rest are awful. His next project gives me great hope, however.
He’s resurrecting the old HBO franchise, Tales from the Crypt. As a young’un, I was enthralled by the creepy stories and cautionary tales, as cheesy as some of them were. It is entirely possible that a series of 30-minute vignettes is exactly what M. Night needs to get back on track with his artistic expression. Coming out later in 2017, this is a series you definitely need to keep on your radar.
I’m a fan of Shyamalan, and won’t give up on him. There is a bubbling excitement I get every time I sit down to watch one of his movies, and although it usually ends in disappointment, there is always that hope that the twist will be a gem. I found myself predicting and guessing throughout the whole film, and in the end, was left feeling cheated, which was much more of a letdown than a typical bad movie delivers. Maybe Shyamalan needs to collaborate, so the endings he probably finds clever are more reflective of his potential.
“Split” is entertaining. It goes off the rails a bit with some of the back stories, and the ending is disappointing, but anticipating the twist (if you can call it that) and enjoying McAvoy’s portrayal of multiple, eccentric characters is good enough for me. I would skip “Split” and watch last year’s “The Visit” instead, if you want a thrill. Unless you already know the twist.