SPLIT (0 out of 10) "Written" and "Directed" by M. Night Shyamalan; Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula; Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language; Running time 117 minutes; In wide release January 20, 2017.
January 20th, 2017 will go down as a dark day in American history. The second worst thing to happen that day is the release of this newest "film" from M. Night Shyamalan which is so aggressively bad that it managed to taint several other movies as well.
Its depictions of mental illness, while horribly problematic, are not the worst thing here, as the treatment of women characters moves beyond simple misogyny to glorifying victimhood. And while some fans will tell you that a final twist at the end of the film makes it so much better, those people are stupid and wrong, as the twist not only ruins this film, but others Shayamalan has done as well.
James McAvoy's depiction of a person (supposedly) with "Dissociative Identity Disorder" (DID) is offensive in a number of ways. The film literally portrays mental health issues as supernatural powers, injecting wackadoodle psuedoscience into an already controversial diagnosis. No, a person with DID cannot have one identity who is an insulin-dependent diabetic. No, one identity cannot repair optic nerve damage and make a blind person see. No, it cannot give you superpowers nor is it the next step in human evolution. And to pretend it can is beyond offensive, but might be forgivable if not for the film's treatment and understanding of victims of childhood physical and sexual abuse. No. No. No. No. No.
McAvoy's performance is also. . . just. . . not good. A lot of what he does makes the audience laugh-- and not in a good way. Because we are not laughing at a joke or a funny person. We are laughing at a person suffering from a serious mental disorder. That is not ok. And even if it was, so much of what McAvoy is doing is jarring and borrows from the "Master Thespian" school of scenery-chewing "ACT-ING!!!" McAvoy is better than this. And him as a goat-footed faun or a guy who can bend the path of bullets are more believable. At least X-Men doesn't pretend its superpowers are anything but myth and fantasy.
And then there are the three female leads who are kidnapped by our antagonist, as well as his psychiatrist played by Betty Buckley. For a movie with four female leads, not one of them is a well-developed character. This film only just barely passes the Bechdel Test and the Sexy Lamp Test, and only just barely. The only reason it passe sBechdel are a few scenes that are completely throwaway and do not contribute at all to the film's narrative or characters. All of these female "characters" only serve to move the story of our disturbed antagonist forward-- as his victims, as his foils, but not as their own characters. And the most developed of the three kidnapped girls gets her own backstory that -- spoiler alert -- is all about her own victimhood and history of abuse.
This is essentially Women in Refrigerators: The Movie where it's the origin story of the villain.
And then we get to the signature Shyamalan "twist." Honestly, before the "twist" in the final 15 seconds, I had a small amount of good will towards this film. I kept saying, "Well, it's interesting to look at. Although Shyamalan has never had a problem composing interesting shots-- those are rarely the problems with his movies. . . but at least this isn't The Happening. Or Avatar: The Last Airbender. He tried something. It really didn't work, but I can see what he was going for. And even though the climax was totally ripped off of Alien and dozens of other, better movies, at least he was stealing from the best."
And then the "twist" happened.
And in that moment-- with one line -- he lost all goodwill I had toward him and this film. Not only this film, but all of his films. This twist ruined at least one of his other films for me, perhaps all of them. Because this film didn't need this stupid twist ending. And the "reveal" in the final minute if it means what I think it means, makes the entirety of each of the preceding 116 minutes absolutely worthless. Oh, that's what you were trying to do? There are literally eight hundred different ways to do this and make it better.
Shyamalan is a hack. And he may have always been a hack. And now I have to go back and watch Signs, The Sixth Sense, and Unbreakable to see if maybe I misjudged those films as being good in the first place.
Wouldn't that be a twist ending?
Don't even think about seeing this movie.
0 out of 10.
Tags: M. Night Shyamalan