The following is a review of Split – Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan has had an interesting career so far. He was once called the next Steven Spielberg and the ‘hottest’ name in storytelling, but when he released The Village, which got mixed reviews, his career fell off a cliff. Suddenly, the guy who was known for his fun story twists, became known for films like The Last Airbender and The Happening. M. Night Shyamalan became known as the guy that made perhaps the most unintentionally funny natural disaster film of the 21st Century (I am again, of course, referring to The Happening).
After he made After Earth, it almost seemed like people were tired of him, which is why it was such a smart movie to make a low-budget found footage horror movie with Blumhouse Productions. The Visit was a good horror movie, and it made people pay attention to what Shyamalan was doing again. Now, with Split, I think he has found another intriguing and thrilling project that gives us the idea that maybe Shyamalan’s career can get back on track.
Split is the story of a bizarre kidnapping of three young women – Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (played by Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (played Jessica Sula). While they are sitting in the car, Claire’s father is incapacitated, and the mysterious ‘Dennis’ enters the vehicle, knocks the girls out, and locks them in a cellar room. The girls soon learn from one of his ‘friendlier’ personalities that someone known as ‘the Beast’ is coming to get them.
Let’s just get this out there. This was such a great opportunity for James McAvoy to show a lot of range and he really got everything out of the role. The role is an actor’s dream as it isn’t just an audience-friendly and suspenseful film, but he’s also playing a character that has multiple different personalities, all of which I imagine are fun to ‘play with’ for an actor. While he is over-the-top at times, it works for the role and for the various somewhat stereotypical personalities that the film focuses on.
Sometimes he’s funny, and even the more fun personalities have dark qualities to them. I especially enjoyed watching him as Hedwig – a nine-year old boy – who clearly just learned the word ‘et cetera.’ Like, that’s a really cool and fun thing to add to the personality, but then you later see him dance and it’s one of the more freaky and scary moments in the film.
The excellent McAvoy is joined by a rising star in thrillers and horror films – the sensational Anya Taylor-Joy. Joy was terrific in The Witch and also appeared in films like Luke Scott’s Morgan and Vikram Gandhi’s Barry in 2016, and with Split she’s kicking off the new year in a great way.
Here she plays the most prominent female character – one of the three kidnapped teenagers. Her character – Casey – had a troubled childhood, and we often return to scenes with her father and her uncle in flashbacks, wherein Casey is played by Izzie Coffey.
Anya Taylor-Joy captures your attention, but the other two kidnapped characters don’t function as well, but they worked for me just fine. The real problem is Betty Buckley’s Dr. Karen Fletcher who has some really interesting scenes with McAvoy’s character(s), but her scenes slowed down the film, and there’s this one Skype conversation that is just jarring.
That character definitely needed some work and some of the dialogue is iffy. Those were my issues with the film, but it didn’t bother me too much as I thought it was a really suspenseful film from start to finish.
People always like to talk about M. Night Shayamalan-films’ many elaborate twists – and I know that people have already discussed it openly online – but I wouldn’t really say Split has a twist. I’d say it is more of a fantastic last minute reveal that improves on the film.
Finally, before I get to my final thoughts, I do think I need to comment on the controversy that Split‘s premise is perhaps reinforcing a negative and false stereotype of people living with complex mental illnesses. Now, I do think that’s a fair complaint, and I would understand if you choose not to watch the film because of that. However, I do think that what the film reveals in the last couple of minutes makes it less problematic.
All in all, Split is a great psychological thriller and a huge success for M. Night Shyamalan. Some may see it as his best film since Signs, but it’s probably my favorite Shyamalan film since 2000’s Unbreakable. I really enjoyed watching this film, and, hopefully, this means that everyone’s favorite Indian-American storyteller’s bumpy career is getting back on track.
8.2 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex