M. Night Shyamalan has been a polarising director. Initially noted for engaging thrillers like ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘Unbreakable’, his ensuing output have increasingly drowned in self-indulgence. His last few films have been unmemorable with little to recommend them. ‘Split’ may change that. Combining genuine thrills with psychological terror, it somewhat restores ‘Shyamalan’s lost lustre. Diving headfirst into its quirky narrative, the issue of one’s identity is magnified under Shyamalan’s gaze.
Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) are friends heading home from a party. Having enjoyed a great time, their idyll is shattered when they are kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy). Locked in a small room, they are terrorized by his strange ways. Acting differently each time they see him, they learn Kevin has multiple personalities. Dealing with each one as best they can, the girls hope one of Kevin’s personalities will set them free. Events spiral out of control as their captor skates towards the edge of unstoppable madness.
As suspense thrillers go ‘Split’ is moderately exciting. Kevin is a very scary predator whose unpredictability ensures scenes in which he features are memorable. McAvoy digs deep into his impressive acting bag to portray the several personalities driving Kevin. It’s difficult thinking of another actor who could convincingly pull the role off, which McAvoy does with ease. Taylor-Joy is equally fine as the troubled Casey who has sinister secrets of her own.
Although Shyamalan always presents a myriad of interesting ideas, he has difficulty in merging them into a coherent story. ‘Split’ is no exception as, despite some genuinely creepy moments, it fails to deliver an overly satisfying narrative. There are many slow spots with Shyamalan’s eccentric story-telling style robbing events of ongoing tension. He heavily relies on the cast’s performances who carry the often wonky screenplay well. The musical score aids in generating atmosphere as does the shadowy gloom of Kevin’s abode which the cinematography lovingly captures.
‘Split’s success rests entirely on the actor’s shoulders. It is let down by messy direction and a script lacking in any sense of urgency. It’s better than recent Shyamalan works as he temporarily reigns in his creative ego to conjure a movie showing the skills capturing audience’s initial attention.
Movie Review Rating out of 10: 6
Movie Review by Patrick Moore
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