So . . . M. Night Shyamalan. Admittedly, The Sixth Sense is the only movie of his that I’ve seen but I’m all too aware of his reputation for making bad movies. It seems that he struck gold with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable but then just went on to make trainwrecks like The Last Airbender and After Earth, with his previous film The Visit garnering split opinions, a few people actually liked it. After hearing of harsh critical opinion towards his films, I seriously implored him to just stop making movies but now he’s back with psychological thriller Split, starring James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy.
So will this film simply be further proof that Shyamalan just needs to stop making movies? Let’s find out . . .
It begins with three young women, including the lonely, troubled, reclusive Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), being abducted by a sinister man named Kevin (James McAvoy) and we soon come to learn that he is a man with 23 alternate personalities, chief among them being cleanliness-obsessed Dennis, prim Patricia and nine year old Hedwig. As the girls attempt to escape imprisonment, it is revealed that the dominant personalities are awaiting the arrival of “the beast”, who may or may not be the feared 24th personality and during all of this, Kevin’s therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) strives to understand and help him, to keep his personalities from causing harm.
While it doesn’t always make perfect sense, the story of Split is fascinating and its exploration of how the personalities exist within Kevin is well handled and constantly interesting. It is an original, imaginative story, always engaging, thrilling and it effectively keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. The film also explores the childhood of lead protagonist Casey, which effectively gives her the necessary character development and depth but perhaps most importantly, it all proves to be essential to the plot and it definitely pays off by the end, giving the audience a sense of closure.
James McAvoy is remarkable here as a man with multiple personalities and each one of them is distinct and brilliantly acted. He is sinister, calm and calculating as both Dennis and Patricia and he also injects the film with plenty of dark comedy as nine year old Hedwig (Kanye West -he’s my main man!). McAvoy plays each character with unique mannerisms, speech patterns and his chameleonic performance confidently holds the film together. Plus, it was a smart move to have McAvoy only play eight of the 23 personalities; the film doesn’t go overboard and McAvoy is given just the right amount to do. And Anya Taylor-Joy, who impressed greatly in last year’s The Witch, is a confident lead alongside McAvoy and conveys so much emotion with her facial expressions and is certainly an impressive rising star.
But of course, ol’ M. Night can’t resist giving himself a cameo as technician Jay.
Shyamalan’s direction is admirable as he often has the characters looking directly towards the audience, constantly keeping their heads and shoulders in the frame, which gets us to hang on their every word and ensures that the tension is kept at maximum. He effectively injects a sense of dread and uncertainty into the film, keeping us unsure of where it’s all heading and ultimately, Split is never boring; it maintains a steady, consistent pace and there is always something interesting happening on screen. And the finale definitely got my heart beating faster, which is certainly an achievement.
If I had to point out any flaws, I would say that some of the writing is a bit uncertain as some of the characters’ dialogue doesn’t always ring true and McAvoy’s character motivation can be a bit confusing, a bit of a struggle to realise just what he’s trying to accomplish. Also, a few horror tropes are thrown in as the two other girls act in the way that you’d expect horror film victims to act, with questionable actions and dialogue and there are a few slightly preposterous moments throughout.
Also, the film ends with a glaring reference to another film (a film that I haven’t seen, but I understand the reference) and it is completely unnecessary and kind of spoils Split‘s credibility. The film definitely carries on for one scene too many.
But all in all, M. Night Shyamalan is back on form as Split is a welcome addition to his patchy filmography. I know, right? Donald Trump is going to be president and M. Night Shyamalan is making good films? Has the whole world gone topsy-turvy?!