213. Split

★★½

I was already aware of the twist ending in “Split” even though this was the first time I watched it. The movie is that its essentially a surprise sequel to M. Night Shymalan’s “Unbreakable” thanks to a cameo from Bruce Willis in the epilogue. And that’s not really a spoiler anymore considering everyone was talking about that twist when it first came out.

But I don’t agree that “Split” was worth the acclaim it received on its initial release. I believe that it’s a good movie, a notch above something you passively watch on an airplane, and a notch below something a friend suggests to watch on HBOGO, even though you’d prefer to watch “La  La Land” instead. The concept is unique and intriguing, a man with multiple personalities kidnaps three girls, with him talking about morphing into a final personality known as “the beast.” James McAvoy does well with this character but not well enough, he is believable as each of the personalities but not in a way that we never stop seeing him.

The real delight, though, is Anya Taylor-Joy who plays the film’s damaged protagonist Casey Cooke. Headstrong and self-sufficient, Casey knows how to work a shotgun but loads it with shells of her childhood trauma. She evokes deep emotion in her stillness, her eyes watering so endlessly we’re afraid she’s about to drown on her own tears. Betty Buckley is also good as the seemingly incompetent Dr. Karen Fletcher, a psychologist who treats McAvoy’s character but doesn’t seem to get that he is incredibly dangerous and a threat to those around him.

While not the deepest, these characters are still well-rounded enough to take us on an entertaining path. Where we get lost, though, is Shymalan’s attempts to balance the Dr. Fletcher sequences, the girls being kidnapped, and Casey Cooke’s flashbacks to her troubled childhood. So much time is devoted to Dr. Fletcher that we lose the sense of urgency of the girls being kidnapped. And so much time passes between Casey’s flashbacks that they lose their full dramatic weight when its needed most.

But it’s good, or at least good enough to watch. I felt it would have been stronger as a non-hidden sequel, not intertwined with a movie that came out 17 years ago. I’m also highly doubtful that M. Night Shymalan can continue this story in any meaningful way. He’s a student of the Spielberg philosophy who believes in showing, note telling. But now that we know the scientific explanation and reasons for everything that has happened, what else could M. Night show that’s any good?

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