As far as film careers go, M. Night Shyamalan’s 25 years of film is the most puzzling and fascinating of them all. The answer to why this man’s career went downhill is the biggest enigma in cinema. Back in 1999 after the Sixth Sense was released, Shyamalan was tipped to be the next elite director, the next Steven Spielberg. Then his tipped masterpieces became disasterpieces and it seemed that his once household name had been lost.
More recently however he has taken baby steps to a triumphant return to the spotlight. His newest thriller Split was supposed to be Shyamalan returning to his thriller roots which made him famous. And while I can say that Split is certainly a more entertaining film than Shyamalan’s later works, the film serves as a reminder that Shyamalan needs a drastic overhaul in his directing style and need to thoroughly look back at what made films like The Sixth Sense and Signs great.
First, I should tip my hat off to Shyamalan for James McAvoy’s performance which carries this film. Every personality that McAvoy must portray are create tension in their own special way. One moment McAvoy’s character can become Dennis, a man who has a very dominating presence around the supporting characters through his obsession with cleanliness, the next he can be a nine year old boy named Hedwig who creates his tension through the physical appearance of a grown man behaving and thinking like a child.
Betty Buckley plays a psychiatrist who is trying to understand the mind of McAvoy’s character and his 23 different personalities in the hopes of curing him and to become more open to people. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Casey who along with two other girls is kidnapped for an undisclosed reason and her performance was great yet could have attempted to be more important that it was in the film.
Shyamalan with minor success creates the kind of tension that is seen in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. I’ll admit that there are scenes that are very nail biting and throughout the film creates a lot of speculation about which personality we will see and how they will interact with the kidnapped girls.
Split has a very simple premise, a man kidnaps three girls and has multiple personalities, job done, right? Well not exactly. Look back at Shyamalan’s later work, most of his older film have very simple premises, only with The Last Airbender and After Earth has he worked with complicated story lines. You can see the over complication of the narrative in Split through various pieces of filmmaking decision that are placed to tell this narrative. When the film involves the supernatural element of the 24th personality, the whole elements feels out of place in an already bizarre, and at times uncomfortable to watch thriller.
One technique that is very much overused in Split are the flashbacks of Casey as a young girl revealing more about her character’s past. This eventually will make sense as the film continues, but when you first see them, it feels as if the editor has put them in there with no consideration of time and place. Also, you find it difficult to care about Casey’s backstory because the multiple personalities are much more interesting characters to learn about.
The cinematography feels organised but poorly framed, there are example in the film of character’s being cut off, the focus pulling is very sloppy and the only redeeming feature is the moderately interesting lighting in the films dominant location. If you were hoping for quick thrills you’ll walk away disappointed as Split makes the decision to flesh out the characters using the flashbacks as previously described, but also through very tense confrontations, it depends on your personal taste if you will find Split thrilling or not.
The most important question to answer is if Shyamalan has let us down again. The answer is no. this is easily one of his best films since The Village in 2004, all due to the fantastic performance of James McAvoy, this man is destined for a much larger greatness that he already has. However, the other elements of filmmaking still need to be improved on if he was to add another academy award to his belt.
To many filmmakers however, all hope has been lost in a fantastic Shyamalan film. The enigmatic director has crossed the line of his own strangeness and for better or worse, Split is the ignition key to unlocking Shyamalan’s fill potential as a director, much like we prefer to remember him. I feel what Shyamalan is lingering on what made him unique in the first place and thinking that it still works today. The twist ending technique which gained him auteur status is now a cliche. When Shyamalan find another way to separate him from the pack of want to Be Spielberg’s, only them might we be able to witness a Shyamalan blockbuster.
Final Result: 5/10 – Average
Have you Seen Split? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below
Next Time: T2 Trainspotting