More noise than signal

Split

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

By this point, I’d like to think that most people have come to the same conclusion regarding the output of M. Night Shyamalan as I have, which is to say, leave them well alone. Sixth Sense may have its fans, and Unbreakable‘s adequate, but the downslide through SignsThe VillageThe Lady in the Water to the unintentionally hilarious, dreadful The Happening is really quite the cliff edge to plummet over.

Yet still, unbelievably, he’s still making films, although the flop of After Earth has seen him retreat into smaller budget, more quick and dirty affairs such as 2015’s found footage horror The Visit, which I understandably have avoided for all the obvious reasons. Yet, enough people had been saying that Split was a return to form that it suckered me into ponying up for a ticket, and, well, to be fair there’s some truth to that, but allow me to be quite clear from the outset that this is best viewed as a comedy than the psychological horror it’s billed as.

Because it’s really, really, really stupid.

Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) is a complicated man, and no-one understands him but his woman, or at least therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley). It turns out that Kev has dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personality disorder as its still more commonly known, with the region of twenty odd personalities (most of which we’re thankfully spared from) being contained in Kevin’s noggin. The stable, dominant one seems to be Barry, who’s managing to hold a relatively normal life together by suppressing some of the more unsavoury characters in there with him.

Of course, that’s hardly going to hold for a film of this nature, so soon Dennis is given sway, who likes watching young girls dance naked, which bodes poorly for the three teenagers he’s just kidnapped – Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and black sheep of the group and our main focus in the film, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy).

There’s two essential threads running through this film, as Barry tries to flag to Dr. Fletcher that something’s going on while Dennis tries to bluff his way past her concerns while pretending to be Barry, and Casey tries to get some of Kevin’s other personalities to release her, or at least get some useful information on escaping from them. Personalities such a Hedwig, supposedly a nine year old boy, or Patricia, who’s making ominous predictions about the coming of “The Beast”.

And so it goes, with talk of this Beast, an as yet uncovered superhuman personality, leading us to believe that some patented twist will be coming to write us out this narrative hole, before, and I suppose I should sound the spoiler warning klaxon here, it turns out the twist was that this is played entirely straight. Presumably no dumber idea was achievable, and before long McAvoy’s bouncing around at ludicrous speed and ripping the hearts from our corralled teens, with Casey making a break for it and being hunted through the facility they’re held in.

Now, I hope most of you are thinking that this sounds dreadful, because that is very much what I’m trying to convey here. It’s not completely unenjoyable, but more in The Happening sense than The Sixth Sense. McAvoy chews the scenery with a commendably unhinged abandon, which makes much of this an amusingly hamtacular performance if you’re in the mood to ironically hate-watch something, but please don’t make the mistake of taking any part of this remotely seriously or you’re in for a trip to Disappointment City.

Actually, I take that back. Hate-watch is trifle strong for this, and let’s be fair, despite the idiocy of the central premise, this is well paced and, given the mess films of this ilk can get into, relatively straightforward narrative. Compare and contrast with the garbage fire of 2003’s Identity, if you want a real exemplar of excrement. In comparison, Split is far too goofy to hate, but nowhere near goofy enough for me to recommend this to anyone excpet the most morbidly curious.

Chillingly, it also points at the possibility of an M. Night Shyamalan Cinematic Universe, which is probably about what the world deserves at the minute. You have no chance to survive. Make your time.