January 20, 2017
M Night Shyamalan’s new horror film is bound split audience opinion.
Signs, the Sixth Sense… The Happening? Some of Shyamalan’s entries into the film world have truly created movie history while others… well some of us just refuse to acknowledge that they even exist (there is no movie in Ba Sing Se). With Shyamalan returning to the low-budget horror film trademark that defined his early career, will Split be enough to revive his legacy?

Split sets the scene by introducing us to three high school girls who quickly find themselves victims of a crazed kidnapper. Locked away in an underground bunker, the three start to realize that something is amiss with the man that took them captive. On the first night, their captor comes in dressed and acting like a woman. Suspecting this as a ploy to get in their heads, they begin their quest to try to find a way out. But when they are once again visited by their captor, but this time acting like a nine year old boy, the three girls start to piece together the truth of what their kidnapper suffers from. Taken in by a man that suffers from dissociative identity disorder, the girls have to navigate his multiple personalities all the while they uncover the much darker, more sinister plan he has in mind for them.

Split gives us the signature Shyamalan treatment: you get mystery, you get supernatural, and how could we forget, you get twists. The film does a great job of setting up its world. Although it has horror elements, the film is certainly more of a mystery thriller. It reveals a little bit of itself at a time. And as you get shots of the captor’s therapist and her explanations of dissociative identity disorder, it sinks in that something paranormal is hidden beneath the surface. Split builds plenty of intrigue and it does a good job of pulling you in. It also does a good job at making the audience feel uneasy and uncomfortable. This is in no small part to the brilliant performance by James McAvoy and his chameleon-like ability to shift in and out of different characters with ease. He truly makes the performance feel real and alive.

With all that Split does right, the expectation is set for another great film in the recent series of kidnapping films like Room and especially the paranormal-influenced 10 Cloverfield Lane. For a majority of the film, I definitely felt the Shyamalan influence, and I think many in the audience are going to hail this as his return to the spotlight as a result. However, this is more wishful thinking than reality. For all the things the film does right, it also does a lot wrong. For someone hailed as the king of twists, a lot of the reveals throughout the film were predictable. The backstories to several characters were expected, and the direction of the film becomes apparent very early on. As much mystery as the film tries to build, very little of it turns out to be shocking or satisfactory. And to avoid spilling the beans on the very very big twist (do not read the spoilers if you plan on seeing the film… and honestly, avoid reading anything about the film), I will say that although it was shocking and completely took me by surprise, it also did not feel like it at all fit with the film or did anything to add to it. In fact, I would even argue that the entire film is pointless if not for the major twist. Which leaves me feeling even more disappointed as I just watched an entire movie for a two second payoff. It just felt like it was trying too hard to make itself into something bigger.

All in all, the film just didn’t have very much payoff. If you are a fan of Shyamalan, I strongly suggest seeing this film as it is bound to have all of your favorite things. For the rest of us, it built itself up to be something much bigger than it really was, and the whole movie just ended up being a hollow shell created for a two-second shocking moment. Although it is better than most of the mediocrity shoveled out by the director in the past, I don’t think this is a great bar to set the standard. Shyamalan is back, but he’s back to his same-old, subpar filmmaking.

1.5 out of 5

What would I have changed? (Spoilers)
Click here to read what I would Change
Johnny Johnny (Contributor) was born and raised in San Diego. He's been a fan of films the majority of his life. He enjoys the feeling it invokes and the power it has to take you to another place.