UNIVERSAL PICTURES (2017)

 

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

 

Starring: James McAvoy, Anya-Taylor Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Betty Buckley

M. Night Shyamalan is back after a long while in the unsuccessful movie wilderness (he’d probably make a movie out of that premise) and returns to what he previously excelled at – smaller movies, smaller budgets, tighter stories. Split presents us with a great foundation for a mystery movie, combining peril with an unpredictable antagonist with 23 personalities, all thrown into a claustrophobic bundle in a bunker god knows where. The question being asked – does Shyamalan deliver again? Answer – Pretty damn nearly.

The movie primarily jumps between the bunker holding the girls and the offices of Dr. Fletcher, and the movie is better for it, creating a smaller scale and a greater sense of threat for our young captives and their seemingly unstable captor.

This worked well, including the subversion of having easy escape routes for all to see and ensuring the girls had to communicate with Kevin in order to unravel any clues for their grand escape plan. It gave the teens something to work with, though Casey became the focal point, and did well with the story she was given.

 

James McAvoy excels as Kevin (and Hedwig...and Patricia...etc) and his multi-dimensional mind, delivering a towering performance encapsulating different states of mind and at times flitting between in the same scene. He delivered an engrossing performance and quite rightly stole every scene he was present in. It’s also a nice change for him, and a chance for him to shine in maybe a different role than usual.

 

Despite having young girls being abducted by potential fruitcake, the movie dismissed any real sexual menace early on, thankfully avoiding that trope, though Shyamalan does ensure two of the girls end up half naked anyway, because….story. As for the story itself, it is pretty much by-numbers thriller, with moments peppered throughout showing good thought and providing compelling moments. The main problem? It’s Shyamalan – therefore it all looks great, the story is somewhat straightforward, BUT everyone is waiting on the twist. Though maybe it’s unfair to level this as Shyamalan’s trump card, it has become his signature.

 

The conclusion, when it does arrive, is sadly disappointing when compared to what came before in the set up to the dénouement. The shift in story lends itself more to superhero romp which is a shame, and more of a shame is how seemingly important plot points mentioned during the movie aren’t really sewn up or acknowledged as their involvement suggested. What the final moments do well, however, is tie up a larger loose end and set up what’s to come.

 

A return to form for Shyamalan, and a set up to another chapter in this saga, Split delivers on many levels and provides a scintillating performance from McAvoy. With a plot that doesn’t change any games, but holds enthralling moments within, the movie is only let down by a substandard final act. To quote Kevin, Shyamalan has “done awful things to people and will do awful things to you” (The Happening), but not this time. Keep it up.

March 3rd 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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