split_ver2STARS1It’s a testament to my tolerance level that I continue to give M. Night Shyamalan a chance despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I haven’t enjoyed any of his films since Signs in 2002. That was 15 years ago and yet I still keep hoping that one day he’ll exhibit a flicker of his former talent. I wasn’t even going to give his latest a chance after The Visit (2015), a shaky-cam found-footage non-starter of a project. However reviews for Split were positive and it drew a healthy box office so I thought, how bad could it be? Pretty awful as a matter of fact. I didn’t foresee that the big twist of this M. Night Shyamalan film was that such an inferior product would implausibly become a success.

Split starts out interestingly enough. Three girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula) are getting ready to leave a birthday party. The father of the guest of honor is going to drive them home. He is approached in the parking lot by a mysterious figure after the girls are already in the car. The next minute the stranger gets into the car and there’s a chilling moment where he sprays them with a toxin. This probably would have been more effective if it wasn’t already in the trailer, but that’s not the movie’s fault. Regardless, it’s a chilling beginning.  The man’s name is Kevin (James McAvoy) and he subsequently locks them up in a basement dungeon. I started getting shades of Silence of the Lambs at this point, but that’s about where the similarities end. This screenplay has none of the depth of that film. It’s also rated PG-13 so it’s less intense, but the subject matter still feels pretty icky. I certainly wouldn’t bring children to this. Honestly, I wouldn’t bring anyone because it’s simply not good.

It turns out that Kevin suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID) and has 24 individual personalities living inside him. Already I’m not comfortable with that ridiculous number because it’s impossible for an actor to do 24 distinct characters justice. To be fair, he really only attempts like nine, but sadly, McAvoy doesn’t even give us one person that we can truly embrace. They’re a smorgasbord of various people: young/old, male/female. I thought about detailing some of them in my review but they’re really not interesting enough to warrant discussion. I will add though that the 24th entity is called The Beast. Not the same creature as in the biblical book of Revelation but I’m sure the allusion is intended.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder, is a real mental illness. I suppose we should be thankful that Shyamalan at least knows the difference between schizophrenia and DID, but don’t look to this script for any real factual basis for the way it occurs. The movie does include a therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley. She was the nice gym teacher in the Stephen King adaptation Carrie (1976) and starred in the TV series Eight is Enough. I’ve always liked her so it was nice to see she continues to get work. Her character sort of pops up at various points in the narrative. Another actor pops up near the end. I assume it’s another one of Shyamalan’s signature twists. So please enjoy that if you can even figure out what it all means. For the record, I did. Didn’t care.

Garbage is an epithet that’s thrown around so frequently these days that I hesitate to use the word, but here goes: Split is garbage. I don’t use that dismissive label lightly.  I’ll explain what took this beyond merely bad to downright offensive. M Night Shyamalan resorts to capitalizing on mental illness for sensational thrills without the care to even convey its complexities. It also exploits child abuse in a cheap attempt to give his weak story more meaning. It does not handle these subjects in a meaningful or sensitive way but rather shamelessly mines the inherent gravity in these issues for superficial kicks. It is artless. Split certainly isn’t the first film to manipulate weighty subjects in a crass manner. Last year’s The Girl on the Train served up a vulgar recipe of alcoholism, depression, and domestic abuse.   It was exploitative much in the same way and Split caused me to relive that awfulness.  Girl was one of my least favorite pictures of 2016, but it came out so late in the year that it was only among the “worst of 2016” for 3 months.  With Split‘s January release, we have a major contender just 20 days into 2017. This production has the potential to go the distance.


27 Responses to “Split”

  1. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    😮 I recognize the words…but I really don’t think we saw the same movie…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review. With many out there liking it, it’s always refreshing to hear the other side. I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t say if I agree or not with you, but I enjoyed the well-written explanation why you loathed it. I am curious about McAvoy’s acting since that seems to be what’s good about it. Too bad M. Night won’t stick to directing.He might have better luck than writing himself poor scripts.
    M.Night is becoming like the Florence Foster Jenkins of movie-making. People still go to his films and pay for the admission knowing full well it will be a shrilly, painful affair.


    • That’s an amusing analogy. From what I’ve heard, fans of M. Night Shyamalan legitimately enjoy his movies in a sincere fashion and not in that “camp” sense that made Florence Foster Jenkins a star. I count myself a fan of his work up until The Village but I can safely say that his talent has not captivated me since 2004.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It worked for me because it was mean and sleazy, but different from what we’ve seen from M. Night in, well, forever. Nice review Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an honest explanation. It’s the sordid handling of the subject that caused me to lose interest, but I have to appreciate your extremely candid answer. So thank you.


  4. I would’ve thought that M. Night Shyamalan is getting better, based on the positive reviews that The Visit and now Split have gotten. Your reviews are telling me that these two are just more of the same. I guess I should see for myself.


    • You should. My intention has always been to give the reasons why I enjoyed/didn’t enjoy a film so people have the information to decide for themselves of whether to see a given film.


  5. martin1250 Says:

    i completely understand your review even though i liked this movie.
    M. Night Shyamalan’s movies remind me of the Twilight Zone TV series which makes them so interesting to watch. They’re all filled with mystery. Now as for the Last Air Bender, lets try to keep that forgotten.


  6. Wheeww!!! A scathing indictment of M Night! I love it! 😉

    I was on board for 90% of it, but much of what the doc and, I guess it was Barry at this point, were talking about re: DID though much of the building up kind of made me skeptical. There was a lot of dramatic liberty taken here, to the point where you really cannot tell if M Night is trying to legitimize the disease or completely make fun of it. I enjoyed it a *touch* more than you, but the ending completely lost it for me. But it sounds like you were lost much earlier 🙂


    • The ending actually implies that it was a good thing that she was abused in the past. That was the final straw, but yeah I wasn’t loving this early on.


      • Hmm, maybe “good” in the sense that it made The Beast recognize he wasn’t the only one to have suffered such a terrible past, but I think Shyamalan was saying how wrong it was that these people went through that. At the same time I see what you mean though b/c if it weren’t for that revelation with her scars, she probably would have been dead. So I’m kind of torn on that part. But let’s agree there were a lot of things wrong with this.

        The only question now — will you, good sir, be seeing any future Shyamalan movies?


      • Probably not, unless someone is paying me.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I kinda got into it. I’ll forget about it quickly though. I hear they might make a sequel. That’s laughable. 3 stars


  8. Excellent review, I think it is best that I skip this movie.


  9. “It’s a testament to my tolerance level that I continue to give M. Night Shyamalan a chance despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” Wow guns blazing right out of the gate! I actually liked Split, but I still enjoyed hearing you rip into it. I dug McAvoy’s performance and I thought he did a lot of subtle things to portray each personality. I wasn’t too hung up on Shyamalan getting DID right since the movie carries supernatural/fantastic elements that could be used to explain away the movie’s less factual take on it. I was not a fan of how it exploits child abuse though. I totally get your perspective on that and don’t blame you for hating the movie as a result.


  10. loved the movie, seen it twice =) sorry it didn’t do it for ya..


  11. The one thing that I would add: I just watched this with my wife who is a psychotherapist (and the daughter of two psychoanalysts) and she said the portrayal of DID and the therapeutic relationship with a DID patient is actually fairly accurate. Extreme in the portrayal obviously, but grounded in modern theory.


  12. Connor Kunz Says:

    I loved Split. It’s my favorite film of the year thus far. I’ve seen it three times and I was absolutely riveted for the entirety of each viewing.

    And yet I can completely understand why you despised the movie and where you’re coming from. It just goes to show what a great writer you are. Keep it up.


    • Well, thank you! I suppose anyone can get an understanding from someone who feels the same way, but if I can properly explain my issues to someone who doesn’t, then I have truly succeeded.

      I appreciate your thoughtful comment.


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