Time Out says
James McAvoy plays a psychotic child abductor with two dozen personalities, but his director flaunts the same-old tricks.
M. Night Shyamalan still takes himself enormously seriously, as if none of the flops after 1999’s The Sixth Sense ever happened. The guy has impressive powers of compartmentalization—he obviously still thinks of himself as an inspired wunderkind—which makes Split, his latest thriller, an unusually personal statement. It’s one of those somber, cello-scored dramas about a clever psychopath (James McAvoy, having too much actorly fun) who has 23 distinct personalities and, more troublingly, three high school girls locked up in his cellar. One of his captives is The Witch’s almond-eyed Anya Taylor-Joy, whose cool problem-solving demeanor you root for.
Split trots out many of Shyamalan’s pet moves (it’s amazing how well we know this filmmaker), including his tendency to infuse genre nonsense with the deeper trauma of child abuse. A lot of the picture works better in flashback, as we learn what made our young heroine so steely. Less successful are endless therapy sessions between McAvoy’s varying personae (think-piece alert: They include a gay fashion designer, a spiritually minded woman and a scared little boy) and his maternal therapist (Betty Buckley), who must be charging him by the minute. The screws don’t really tighten—they clamp closed: Suddenly there’s a lot of running around and screaming.
It’s crucial to note that Split doesn’t build toward a twist ending (not that any decent critic should reveal those bits of ridiculousness)—or, in fact, a proper ending at all. It leaves you hanging in a way that feels swooningly pretentious for this kind of movie. There’s a tiny shiver of something in the final few seconds that doesn’t exactly change what we’ve watched so much as say, “I’m still M. Night Shyamalan, and I’m still crazy!” He’s become his own twist ending. Half your audience (I’m being generous) will gasp; the rest of you will roll your eyes. Split, indeed.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew
Haley Lu Richardson