M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense is, for my money, one of the finest horror films of the past quarter-century, a stirring, unsettling, expertly filmed picture that deserved all of its half dozen Oscar nominations.
Ever since that 1999 release, unfortunately, it's been downhill for this supposed master of the supernatural. Unbreakable and Signs were watchable, albeit a remarkable step down from his breakthrough film, while subsequent releases just got worse and worse until Shyamalan entirely skid off the road into Razzie Award territory.
Shyamalan's latest effort is, I'm pleased to report, not an unqualified disaster, even if it never comes remotely close to reaching the heights of The Sixth Sense.
Split opens with Kevin (James McAvoy) abducting three teenage girls from a parking lot. They awaken in a windowless room and are quickly introduced to, among others, the likes of "Hedwig," "Patricia" and "Dennis" - that is, a few of Kevin's 23 alternate personalities. There are attempts to escape or trick Kevin but ultimately, only loner Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) proves smart and resourceful enough to be a real match to their captor. When Kevin isn't tormenting his prey, he's visiting with his psychiatrist (Betty Buckley), who has come to know Kevin's many personalities all too well.
The opening half or so of Split is reasonably entertaining, if never, ever actually scary. It plays almost like a cross between 10 Cloverfield Lane and Raising Cain, though it's rarely as compelling as either of those two pictures. The opening credits are truly fantastic and Hitchcockian. The thing is, a little of Kevin/Hedwig/Dennis/etc. goes a long way and, by the one-hour mark, I was plenty ready to bid him farewell. And, as is all too often the case with the director's pictures, Split really takes a nosedive toward its end.
McAvoy's scenery-chewing performance, while amusing, is no Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve. More satisfying are the badass Taylor-Joy, who was also terrific in last year's The Witch, and Buckley, the legendary, Tony-winning star of the stage, in a rare big screen appearance, with a juicy supporting role.
Split isn't without its pleasures but still, wait 'til it's on HBO.