EVERYONE RAGS ON director M. Night Shyamalan for being a one-trick pony. But, guys, he's so much more than that! His films can be pretty great (2000's Unbreakable) or they can be embarrassing garbage (2015's adult-diaper-filled The Visit). That's two whole tricks! With Split, he's back to vintage Shyamasurprise® Time, and the result is a fairly solid thriller with only a few missteps. Not bad, sir, not bad.
Do you want to hear about the possible deal-breakers? Okay. James McAvoy—who's much more talented than the constraints of this script allow—plays an unstable man with 24 different personalities. Maybe portraying a psychopath with dissociative identity disorder seems like gimmicky actor-showoff time, you say, but McAvoy does the near-impossible of making a young boy, a dowdy lady, and a clean-freak pervert all seem like plausible inhabitants of his handsome frame. That's hard work. Split's other sticky wicket is one of Shyamalan's patent-pending winks at the end. Get thee out of the movie theater before that too-cutesy bit, as it taints all the hard-fought thrills that Split manages to offer.
As for the done-goods: Shyamalan's always been a journeyman of thrillers with economical scares, homespun characters, and textured, atmospheric settings—and Split has all that. The great Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) is one of three girls that McAvoy kidnaps and holds in his weird basement warren, and one of the film's strong suits is watching her navigate the prison and her captor's horde of personalities. That's about the extent of Split's charms—occasional suspense followed by awkward moments, and overall watchability with bouts of heavy-handedness. It's a bumpy ride that never rivals the mess of some of Shyamalan's past failures, but it also never reaches the highs of his greatest film. (Again, that's Unbreakable. Give yourself a present and watch that little gem again.)