Shyamalan's 'Split' squanders fantastic performances from McAvoy and Taylor-Joy

2 out of 5 Stars
M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rated: PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language
Recommended to: Those who find M. Night Shyamalan’s desperate attempts to revive his career endearing.

Synopsis: When a man with multiple personalities kidnaps three teenage girls, the girls discover that some of his personalities are more benevolent than others.

Review: It’s no secret that there was a time when M. Night Shyamalan was hailed as one of the young visionaries that would lead cinema into new and completely unexplored areas. This, unfortunately, proved to be more hyperbole than fact as Shyamalan’s career took a downturn about halfway into his third film, “Signs,” and never truly recovered.

Yes, some hailed “The Visit” as a return to form, but I wasn’t one of those people. In fact, I found “The Visit” to be as tired as any of Shyamalan’s recent efforts.

There are two things that “Split” has going for it right out of the gate: James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. McAvoy is a proven actor and Taylor-Joy is one of my favorite young actresses (her performance in “The Witch” was fantastic). Both give everything they’ve got to the film. The problem is, without them there wouldn’t be much to praise about the film.

Sadly, like many Shyamalan films, it is difficult to offer any sort of critical analysis of the film without spoiling the bulk of the movies twists. Particularly a rather large reveal at the end of the film that, depending on how you look at it, either proves just how desperate Shyamalan is at this point in his career or offers diehard supporters a reason to look forward to whatever might come next.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the film is the internal debate it has thrown me into. There are some that would suggest that the horror genre has always been more progressive when it comes to dealing with sensitive topics. That behind all the blood and guts have been strong and progressive female roles. In fact, up until seeing “Split,” I’ve somewhat accepted that defense of the genre. Now, I’m beginning to question how helpful including sensitive topics is if you aren’t actually going to address them. To my eye, “Split” is more about exploitation than it is about exploration. I’m not comfortable with the way things are handled in this film. Particularly when it comes to Taylor-Joy’s character.

It might sound strange, but I think the real problem here is that Shyamalan actually does want to say something. He wants to inject some sort of message and meaning into the chaos he is presenting us. “Split” isn’t intended to be just another horror film with a madman at its core. It might have been better if it had been. Shyamalan has proven time and time again that he is unable, perhaps even incapable, of following through on his desire to give us more than the convoluted mess of ideas that threaten to derail “Split” from its very start.

At some point Shyamalan needs to find a writer who can translate his ideas into the sort of script that doesn’t rely entirely on gimmicks to surprise audiences. He’s certainly a capable director, but his writing fails him. There are good ideas here, but they never come together.

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