In unexpected twist ending news, the unexpected twist ending of Split is that there isn’t an unexpected twist. James McAvoy is playing a nutbar who hurts people, people get hurt, the end. There’s no tricky metaplot in which it turns out that it’s everyone else who’s a nutbar, or anything else like that. Split does exactly what it says on the tin, likely a somewhat less complicated mid period Hitchcock movie. So if you’re going to see it, don’t spend your time second guessing the action. It’s about what it’s about.
There is, of course, a kind of tweak in the movie, inasmuch as it ends with a shout out to Unbreakable, otherwise known as the movie which gave us the big clue about M Night Shyamalan being a flash in the pan. The Sixth Sense remains a truly clever little movie with expert pacing and a genuinely unexpected turnaround. It was always going to be a tough act to follow, which hasn’t stopped Shyamalan from trying to, and hasn’t stopped people like from expecting him to even when he’s given up trying.
But what about Split? Well, it’s mostly about James McAvoy’s flashy performance as a guy with a personality for every occasion, by which I mean the WRONG personality for every occasion. It’s a pity that it’s going to get most of the attention, because Anya Taylor-Joy’s quiet performance as Casey, the final girl, is much more interesting. In some ways she’s the mirror of McAvoy’s mess of characters. Both have had horrible childhoods and gone looking for someplace safe, but Casey’s inturned self-harming character is much more realistic than James McAvoy’s caricature multiple personality schtick. McAvoy does a solid job of giving us a lot of different kinds of persona, but it’s like most cinematic depictions of damage in the way it’s too dramatic, too mannered, too intelligent to be truly convincing.
That said, the movie is properly plotted and moves well. Three girls snatched off the street and held by a loon in a basement could be relentlessly claustrophobic, but instead the action cuts away all the time to McAvoy’s psychiatrist, who knows that there’s something wrong but can’t bring herself to believe how far wrong it’s gone until it’s far too late to save herself or anyone else. And cleverly, McAvoy keeps pulling his punches, until you can almost bring yourself to believe that he’s not going to follow through on his plan to murder everyone. When he does follow through, it’s all the more shocking.
All in all, it’s good work. And if anyone else had done it, it would be the same kind of solid thriller that Don’t Breathe was. The pity of it is that Shyamalan’s created expectations that even he can’t fight off.