Will 'Split' Finally Silence M. Night Shyamalan's Critics?

Most young moviegoers probably don't remember how M. Night Shyamalan burst onto the movie-making scene in the 1990s, so they might not understand why the filmmaker's career has been a many-years-long disappointment. Many older movie fans, however, have been waiting for Shyamalan to, finally, live up to his initial promise.There are indications, at last, that his latest film might be what they've been waiting for.

Shyamalan's debut feature, The Sixth Sense, was the second-highest-grossing movie of 1999 (behind Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace), and it set expectations very high for his skill as a filmmaker. His next two films, Unbreakable and Signs, were commercially successful but not as critically acclaimed.

Then came a very long string of critically reviled and financially disappointing films, including The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. None of them came even close to recapturing the success of Shyamalan's early films.

The Visit, released in 2015, seemed to put a crack in the barrier that was keeping Shyamalan down, though. It was met with mixed reviews, but it wasn't a financial disaster. And even mixed reviews were a big improvement from the critical response Shyamalan had been getting over the previous 15 years or so.

The writer/director/producer's latest film, Split, opens this weekend, and it's getting the best critical response of any of Shyamalan's films in this century. In it, James McAvoy plays a kidnapper with multiple personality disorder. It's McAvoy's effectively creepy performance that's getting the most praise, but Shyamalan is getting credit, too, for crafting a tight story that avoids most of his typical narrative missteps.

Split has a shot at taking the top box-office spot this week, and that's something Shyamalan hasn't been able to accomplish in a very long time.

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