James McAvoy in Split (Photo: Universal)
(With Glass scheduled to open January 18, here’s a reprint of the review of its 2017 predecessor.)
★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY M. Night Shyamalan
STARS James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy
It’s the only explanation that makes sense: A large number of people have such an inexplicable urge to “forgive” M. Night Shymalan for his lame non-thrillers like After Earth and The Last Airbender that they’re going overboard with their enthusiastic effusions now that he’s returned to the genre. The modest 2015 hit The Visit was a tepid terror tale with many risible moments and an obvious twist, and now here’s Split with a grasping narrative that only grows progressively more daft.
James McAvoy delivers a fine performance – make that performances – as a disturbed individual in possession of approximately two dozen personalities. At least one of these split identities has decided to kidnap three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) for a grisly purpose that will eventually be made clear.
Ugly and idiotic, the film begins promisingly before eventually going completely off the rails, with Shyamalan oddly building toward a climax that ultimately finds a positive side benefit to incest, pedophilia, and physical abuse (then again, this vile development supports the strain of misogyny that runs throughout). There’s also a last-second cameo that will strike some as inspired and others as desperate – at any rate, a sequel is already in the works.