After a prolonged bout in director jail, M. Night Shyamalan may never restore his career to the mainstream respectability once afforded by the success of his earlier work such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. With his previous film, the endearingly daft found-footage flick The Visit, and now the gloriously demented Split, he’s managed to rejig our expectations somewhat, comfortably embracing his position as solid craftsman of schlocky, modestly-budgeted genre pictures – nothing more, nothing less.
Sure, Split comes with the sort of goofy, gimmicky writing and spoiler-sensitive, sure-to-polarise ending that have made Shyamalan an ongoing source of much derision. But it also exhibits his underrated Hitchcockian flair for tautly maximising suspense through restrained formal rigor rather than gory sensation.
Even if that were lacking, the film would still have the appeal of James McAvoy’s unchecked, laughably overwrought performance as a dissociative identity disorder-suffering kidnapper. He doesn’t quite nail the wide breadth of emotions and personalities required of the role – an uptight germophobe, a 9-year-old Kanye West fan, and a flamboyant fashion designer among them – but as a piece of cartoony showmanship, it’s fun watching him dial it up to 11. That’s in stark contrast to Anna Taylor-Joy, whose palpably distressed victim, played effectively straight, amplifies the unpredictable insanity of his character.
If Split ultimately fails to examine abuse and trauma in any sort of tactful manner, save for the sincere, matronly warmth in which Betty Buckley delivers the script’s expository psychobabble, it’s too weird and entertainingly trashy to write off. It’s Sybil made by a guy who has no qualms casting himself as a “Hooters lover”.
‘Split’ session times