Of all the films that M. Night Shyamalan has directed, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that Split is one of them.
Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) has devoted her life to studying people with multiple personalities. Her research suggests that when a new identity takes over (“takes the light”), their body may actually undergo certain physiological changes. For example, she’s found that one personality may have a higher cholesterol count than another. These findings aren’t widely embraced by the larger scientific community, but she’s convinced, and she continues to meet with her subjects on a regular basis.
Kevin (James McAvoy) is one of those subjects, and he’s got about a couple dozen identities in his head. They all know about and acknowledge the others, but they all have very different characteristics. Lately, Dennis has been taking over a lot, and he’s the biggest and strongest of them. And now he’s gone and kidnapped three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) and locked them in a small, mostly featureless room.
Split is a fairly middle-of-the-pack Shyamalan film. It’s no The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, but it’s also nowhere near as bad as The Happening or After Earth. It’s actually quite entertaining at times, and the acting (especially from McAvoy) is generally pretty good. But the film requires you to accept a given premise, but I never really managed it. Every time I decided to just go along with it, the movie would take things too far and snap me back out of it.
But even bigger than my inability to suspend belief is the film’s sudden abandonment of key characters. The girls are initially locked in a room together, but they’re separated fairly early on, at which point two of them basically just disappear from the movie. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that they may well have filmed additional scenes that were recklessly chopped out to get the runtime under two hours. The movie’s problems with pacing and tone suggest that it wasn’t planned out all that meticulously, and that they had painted themselves into a corner when it turned out too long.
And then everyone’s talking about that last shot of the movie. It’s dumb. It feels like a kind of “me, too” moment, but for something that stopped being a fad a couple of years ago. It adds nothing, except maybe fear that there might be a sequel, and fuel to the theory that Shyamalan really has no idea what he’s doing.