Split — 5/10

SPLIT (2017, M. Night Shyamalan)

The references are there from the very beginning — Night signals Hitchcock with the opening shot, which is a dolly-in/zoom-out on Taylor-Joy (not quite as good as she was in THE WITCH, but it’s just the material’s limitations, not hers), and then we get repeated PSYCHO-type exposition from Betty Buckley, aka The Worst Psychiatrist Of All Time. Shyamalan has always been a better director than writer, and here his script lets him down yet again. He gets to do more with the camera than in THE VISIT, which was hampered by the found-footage gimmick, but that was still a scarier and more interesting film than this multiple-personality cliché rehash: really just an excuse to prove that James McAvoy can actually act (which is the most shocking twist by far).

Night’s camera makes concrete what the metaphors about McAvoy’s brain imply — people trying to get to the light, being trapped in boxes/cages, the desperate need to communicate, etc. It’s all very tight and well reasoned. But in the service of what? Even the post-title-card nod at the end to one of his earlier movies feels desperate and pointless. The rest is just a series of dull conversations between McAvoy and Buckley, plus some nervous winging-it from Taylor-Joy. The presence of weapons, doors, and silence do create a foreboding atmosphere of dread, which is clearly Shyamalan’s strength, but not only did Hitchcock do this stuff better — De Palma did too, and we already have RAISING CAIN.

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