I think it is (finally) safe to say M. Night Shyamalan is back.
After string of what most might consider misses, and last year's mildly-received The Visit, the director has hit his suspense/horror stride again with Split, a welcome return to the genre that made him a household name.
Split is a chilling and climatic ride that gives us a look at the true power of a fractured mind.
The film kicks off as we meet Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), three classmates celebrating Claire's birthday at a restaurant. They appear to be close friends, however, Casey is revealed to be an outcast who causes trouble in school and is always in detention.
Claire's father offers Casey a ride home, and the girls get in the back. However, thing soon go awry when an unknown man enters the car and calmly takes the driver's seat. Confused, the three girls ask why he there, only to be sprayed with gas that causes them to fall unconscious.
When they wake up, they find themselves in a locked room in a strange location. They learn they are being held captive by "Dennis," who is one of the 23 distinct personalities belonging to Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. As the girls try to escape, they meet more of Kevin's personalities, such as Hedwig, an inquisitive nine-year-old boy. However, they are also warned of the presence of a 24th personality; a carnivorous being called "The Beast." Should The Beast emerge, things will surely take a bloody turn.
First of all, easily the best thing about Split can be summed up in two words: James. McAvoy. He gives his all in this performance, and really does not hold back. He commands the attention of the audience in a truly compelling, and equally terrifying way in every scene he's in. His performance was over-the-top, but in the best way possible, never veering into cheesy overacting. His acting capability is spotlighted here, because while we are still technically seeing at the same character (Kevin) throughout, McAvoy applies small mannerisms and unique facial expressions to each of the individual identities -- you feel as though you are watching an entirely different person. I know it's early still, but I'm seriously hoping he gets an Oscar nomination. Anya Taylor-Joy also turned in a fully layered performance as the misunderstood Casey.
The story and its characters as a whole are also very well thought out, which is likely why James' performance hits the mark. The events play out slowly, and key information of character's back stories are shown through a series of flashbacks and tucked in dialogue. It's a more subtle but satisfying way of telling the story, and allowing us as the audience to fit together the pieces. Take Casey, for example. Without ever giving too much away all at once, she ends up matching Kevin's complex characterization, and actually makes us invest in her and her own traumatic past.
It is great to see Shyamalan triumphantly returning to what he does best. However, I did have some issues with the film. I would have liked to know more about each personality's significance in Kevin's past. We do get a bit of information on Dennis, the obsessive-compulsive personality dominating Kevin's mind, but not much else. It's not a huge problem, and it even makes Kevin's entire backstory that more mysterious. I also was not a fan of the two supporting characters, Claire and Marcia. I found them both to be annoying, however, since they were not the focus of the film, it was not a huge distraction.
I would highly recommend Split to anyone who (like me), has been eagerly anticipating M. Night's return to excellence in his craft. While it's not perfect, you can tell that this is exactly where he feels at home. I finished watching with an eerily familiar chill that followed watching Signs for the first time. I am excited to re-watch Split, and cannot wait to see what else Shyamalan has up his sleeve. From the film's surprise ending, it seems anything is possible.
- Alternate Endings/Deleted Scenes with introduction by M. Night Shyamalan
- The Making of Split
- The Many Faces of James McAvoy
- The Filmmaker's Eye: M. Night Shyamalan
Have you seen Split? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a review of the film here. ~Ashleen Grange