“Split” this is on par with my second favorite film by M. Night Shyamalan, “The Visit,” right after The Sixth Sense.
My first problem with Split was the humor. With “Split,” the humor and the story seem separate, making the humor distracting from the film’s overall tone, rather than complementary to the story as a whole. This may just be a creative opinion of my own, but I felt the humor was underdeveloped.
We may come to enjoy watching the main character and his multiple identities (portrayed brilliantly by James McAvoy), therefore the humor here is meant to provide balance, interjecting humanity to the incredulousness. The issue, however, was matching the humor of the story with the audience, and I get the impression Shyamalan had trouble understanding how to connect the two. The humor here is akin to a comedian telling a joke, and pausing for the crowd to start laughing. It is this forced, awkward intentionality that ultimately spoils the end result.
Another example of the humor gone wrong is the unbalanced proportions. For example, there is a brief moment in the opening scene when a main character so blatantly jokes about her dad’s driving skills that it’s hard not to assume we’re supposed to laugh. During later moments, some attempts at humor involve McAvoy’s multiple personalities—but clearly, the humor in these scenes is intended to be caused by our reaction to his extremely unusual character, not so much a natural reaction to the chain of events of the story.
Secondly, the nature of this movie primarily revolves around the idea that a man with 23 identities can morph into something inhuman and monstrous. That alone could cause anyone’s eyebrow to raise superstitiously. Easily, this is just Hollywood bait posing as a reason to see the movie (And guess what? It worked!). The trailers all made it obvious that the selling point of the film was “the beast”—not even so much the multiple personalities. The movie slowly narrows its attention from the various characters embodied within “Kevin” (McAvoy’s main self), skinning the fat away until all that’s really emphasized is that a beast is coming. As much as this builds suspense, it also feels a bit cartoony, since it feels un-relatable, just as anything outside of reality truly is. Tied to point number two of the cons is how there is nothing remotely challenging about this story—nothing to take home. There isn’t anything psychologically stimulating about Split— as soon as the credits started rolling during my screening, everyone immediately stood up and walked out. Ultimately, Split is a fun pop-corn flick with a great actor in the lead role. Which leads me to my third and final con.
The one thing that stood out most as a letdown about Split is the number of identities we actually get to see. We are manipulated in the trailers, led to believe there are 23 different identities within one man who we will get to see. Of the 23, we get to personally witness about 8— 4 more heavily for the first 3/4 of the movie. 4 out of 23. As much as watching McAvoy portray 4-7 different people is, others may enter the theater expecting to be amazed with 15 more, and they will be sorely disappointed. All that said, McAvoy does a phenomenal job in this role, truly nailing every facet of each character portrayed in the man named “Kevin”. In fact, that is my first choice for pro number one.
In the lead role, James does an impressive job juggling not just 7 names, but seven diverse personalities, each replete with unique accents, body language, facial expressions—the whole nine yards. Very impressive. At almost 38 years of age (looking quite young still), James certainly has tricks up his sleeve and flawlessly implements them without so much as a second out of character. In every moment his eyes are 100% committed to story-telling, wrapping the audience around the horrifying reality of a man stuck with 23 different minds.
Second to note is the story-telling itself. Shymalan does a fine job swiftly implementing the story beginning with a birthday party, and transitioning into the horrors of Kevin’s multiple personalities as they undulate through him, carefully unwrapping each scene by scene until the drum roll is over and and we’re eagerly awaiting the reveal after the clash of cymbals. There are twists, and though they are not jaw-dropping or mind-boggling, they are interesting enough to leave us feeling as though the story of Chapter 1 has been efficiently unraveled, without forcing the viewer to watch the paint dry.
Finally, for anyone, like me, who believes in shielding certain content from children of the appropriate age, I want to provide precautions for the parents out there who need to know whether or not to take their children with them.
Parental Advice: This film is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language. Without spoiling the movie, let me warn you that this film is not for children under 13. Understandably, there are many movies with a PG-13 rating only for a few F-bombs (if you’re complacent with your child being exposed to vulgarity), but this isn’t one of those. Teenage girls are shown in their underwear for portions of the film, and cannibalism is also implied more than once. The film grows more violent in the third act, and I would say this is disturbing enough for the film’s rating on its own. Though the scenes referred to here are not extremely graphic (much is implied off-screen), thematically, this material is quite heavy and not suitable for young children.
Altogether, I would give this film a 3/5. The acting is impressive, the story is satisfactory, even if the humor is entirely off-beat and there is some disappointment in the paucity of personalities than was advertised in the trailers. The ending alone is quite a nice surprise for some of you who are a fan of Shymalan’s earlier works.
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