Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley
Running time: 117 mins
Release date: 20th January 2017
There’s a phenomenon that occurs in the world of ‘bad’ movies. Films like Birdemic or The Room, for example, were made with the highest artistic intentions; these people were trying to make a good movie. When they were released and faced scathing reviews, alongside an audience that could only laugh and enjoy them through a molasses-thick layer of irony, the filmmakers backtracked. They said it was meant to be funny. They committed to this narrative to the extent that their follow-ups were tongue-in-cheek by design, but ended up being neither seriously nor ironically enjoyable – they were just awful.
After the unforgettable career-launching trilogy of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, M. Night Shyamalan took a hard left turn at The Happening. It sucked. It was his Birdemic. ‘But it’s meant to be cheesy and over-the-top!’ Shyamalan would claim, through presumably gritted teeth. It wasn’t. It was just dreadful. Ever since this fiasco it seems as though Shyamalan has been trying to critic-proof his work the same way as Tommy Wiseau et al; producing things that could pass as shoddily made good ideas then masking them with just enough so-called humour that he can pass it off as irony if people don’t ‘get it’. He did it in 2015 with The Visit and does it again now with Split.
James McAvoy stars as a psycho who abducts three teen girls to unknown, presumably nefarious ends. Things only get weirder for the insufferably unsympathetic prisoners as they realise their captor has dissociative identity disorder, meaning any one of McAvoy’s multiple personalities could be next to visit the room in which they’re being held. The absurd scheme is gradually unveiled by McAvoy through his literally multifaceted performance, the acting challenge of which one can assume is the only reason he took this role. The Witch star Anya Taylor-Joy is the wiliest of his captives and basically the only thing about the film other than McAvoy that is remotely interesting, working with what little she has to try and save the day. It deals with subjects like mental illness and child abuse with the subtlety of a shotgun, while dialogue exists purely to foreshadow events that take place only because they were foreshadowed earlier; the whole plot is a parabola of pointlessness. Plus the weird old lady from The Happening pops up too.
All this said, you should keep your fingers crossed for a sequel to this movie. Unbelievable yes, but there’s a single pre-credits scene that will come as a major surprise, at least to anyone who has managed to avoid spoilers online. Ol’ Shyamalan is back at it again with the twist endings, it seems. It’s suggested, however, that you wait for this scene to appear on YouTube and watch it there; spare yourself the preceding two hours of absolute nonsense.