SEBRING — Director M. Night Shyamalan has a reputation for twist endings and not so popular movies. We all remember “The Village” or “The Happening,” two movies that you probably have gone to great lengths to forget. But then there were fond memories, like “The Sixth Sense,” “Lady in the Water” and for some of us, “Unbreakable.” But let’s not forget about the bilge that is “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth.” So it would seem that he has been on the bad side of filmmaking for the past several years, but that’s with the critics more than anything else. For all the flack he gets for his movies, even as I sit here and tell you that “The Last Airbender” and “The Happening” are utter garbage best to be avoided, it can’t be denied (because I looked it up) that all but two of his 13 movies have been financial successes. This shows us that despite what critics say, people go to these movies. So why not let him do another thriller with a secret twist?
This is where my inner critic comes back, kind of like another personality. (see what I did there?) I went to the theater really wanting to like this movie. I will say right off the top, James McAvoy, our lead antagonist, or the “bad guy” if you will, was excellent. He was asked to not just sell us on one character, he had to sell us on more than five, and make the characters and their arguments with each other believable and compelling. This he does to great effect. He is easily the best part of this movie.
One great actor alone isn’t enough to spend $12 or more to see a movie. McAvoy plays a character named Kevin, but Kevin has 23 personalities, so we don’t even get Kevin until the end of the movie.
Instead we spend most of our time with Dennis, Patricia, and Hedwig who are called “The Horde” by the other personalities. The horde is working for a 24 th personality known only as The Beast. This is already tough to keep track of, but the way McAvoy plays them all helps you keep track of them and who is who. Most of the time. There are times when Patricia does a very Dennis-like thing but then instantly is back as Patricia. I could easily write that off, except it’s not the only time Shyamalan breaks his own rules.
The biggest of these is when The Beast is stabbed and the knife breaks. We are led to believe through exposition that he is bullet proof because he simply believes that he is and has evolved to be better than any normal human. But minutes later he is then shot with a shotgun, and the shot is embedded in the skin and has drawn blood. How? I could say that maybe it had to do with the person stabbing him being a “normal” human and the shooter is, in his words, “like him” a broken character because she has been abused. This is never told or shown to us, I’m just guessing. Something I did a lot in this movie.
The abuse is told to us through flashbacks of Casey out with her uncle and father. The abuse is implied, but by the fourth flashback I felt like we were having it shoved in our face without seeing the actual abuse. We get it, she was abused by her creepy uncle who ends up being her guardian. Thus the rebelling in school and the anti-social behavior. We are led to believe that Casey and her two schoolmates’ abduction parallels Casey’s abuse somehow, and through this trauma she would come out stronger and better for it. Or at least be able to go home and handle her abuser. No, not really. Casey didn’t grow. She came out of her captivity and confrontation with The Beast as the same anti-social girl she was when she was abducted. Her character arc was a straight line.
The other two girls, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) are barely worth mentioning.
Not only do the characters regress and arc backwards, they were clearly only the McGuffin that brings The Beast out.
I know that I talk a lot about character arcs and plot holes and criticize the writing in some of these reviews, but I feel like having a degree in Writing for Entertainment gives me some room to argue.
Having spent years learning how to write fiction and movies, it really bothers me to see others getting paid to be lazy writers. There is so much lazy writing in this movie, I’d go on for several pages if I argued each one. Why does it take five flashbacks to get us to understand what happened to Casey to make her the way she is? It really only took me two, but the movie went on and on about it, as if we wouldn’t get it. Maybe it was to fill time. Why do Kevin’s female personalities not wear makeup or dress very girlish?
All of the personalities seem to dress the same dull gray colors, only nine-year- old Hedwig gets to wear yellow. Meanwhile, the kidnapped girls have to strip down to their underwear because “Dennis” can’t stand for them to have dirty shirts on.
Why does Casey not grow as a character? Probably because she doesn’t matter much to the story either. This is a story of The Beast and his rise to power.
Two stars out of five
“Split” is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language, and has a runtime of 116 minutes.