Rating: 2 Stars
I went and saw Split a couple of days ago. At one point, I was a pretty big M. Night Shyamalan fan. Unbreakable is probably one of my top ranked movies. I also enjoyed Sixth Sense and Signs. Hell, I even thought The Village was pretty good.
And then came Lady in the Water and everything else after that.
I probably haven’t seen any of his movies in the last ten years, so I was somewhat heartened to learn that his latest, Split, might actually not suck.
So, I went to see it. The good news is that it did not suck. The not so good news is that I think the critics were kind of grading on a curve. It wasn’t bad, but still nowhere near his top echelon.
The story revolves around three young women who have been kidnapped and are being held in a cell / dungeon looking kind of place. Hey, look! A kidnapped damsel in distress! What an innovative plot development!
The three young women are in high school. Clair and Marcia, close friends, are pretty typical teenagers. They are terrified and desperately want to escape. The third young woman is Casey. She’s not friends with the other two but shares a class with them. She is much quieter, subdued, and generally darker in mood than the others. Behind her eyes you can see her somewhat coldly calculating the situation.
The young women have been kidnapped by Dennis, played by James McAvoy. It quickly becomes obvious that there is something wrong with Dennis. In different scenes he acts completely differently. In one scene, he’s wearing a dress.
The women piece together that he’s actually a person with multiple personality disorder.
From there, the movie unfolds into different plot lines. One is the women trying to hatch an escape. Another is Casey as a child and her story of abuse and its impact upon her unfolds. The third is the McAvoy character, in all of its personalities, going about his day and meeting his shrink.
The psychiatrist seems to be a tired trope. It actually reminded me of the ending of Psycho, where a psychiatrist describes what’s going on with Norman Bates in clinical detail. The purpose of the psychiatrist is to advance the plot via exposition. Generally speaking, having to verbally explain what’s going on means that, as a filmmaker, you’re not really doing a great job. So it is here.
The important plot development that is being espoused appears to be that each of the personalities can be so distinct that they can have different physical characteristics. All throughout the movie, there is a concern about the beast. The beast is a previously unknown personality that is going to come along and kill the young women as part of some ritualistic sacrifice. That is why they’ve been kidnapped.
It then becomes a foot race between the young women trying to escape, the psychiatrist trying to resolve the personalities’ issues, and the looming appearance of the new beast personality.
The movie was not horrible. It clicked along. There were moments of suspense.
It’s just that the damsel in distress, the multiple personality maniac, and the knowing psychiatrist have all been done before. It just felt like Shyamalan threw all of these plots into a pot and tried to create a new stew.