Three young women are kidnapped by a man who has severe dissascociative identity disorder. The girls focus on their escape while dealing with a man who houses 23 individual personalities and a soon to arrive 24th called The Beast.
This is the premise of the new psychological horror thriller Split from M. Night Shyamalan. It stars James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, the man with multiple personalities. The film also stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Jessica Sula and Haley Lu Richardson as Casey, Marcia and Claire, the kidnapped girls. Also starring is Betty Buckley who also played a role in Shyamalan’s The Happening.
Shyamalan has had his ups and downs over the years. We’ve gotten great films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. We’ve also gotten some awful films suck as The Last Airbender, The Happening and After Earth. After watching Split, I feel it’s a return to form for the director that I hope continues on.
First, the best aspect of Split is the performance of James McAvoy. Each persona of the main character feels like a complete individual and not as merely derivative versions of the same. Even though we see McAvoy, as an audience you get to know many different characters with their own stories, traits and idiosyncrasies. Sadly, this is the only quality acting that I felt existed in the film. The remaining cast just felt like they were going through the motions. It wasn’t bad acting, I just didn’t feel much to them. There is a revelation about one of the characters who isn’t played by McAvoy about 2/3rds though, and while it is an important moment, I never felt sold totally on how it affected the character. However this may be attributed to my own ignorance at how one processes trauma.
Shyamalan reminds us that he is certainly a talented director. From a technical perspective Split is on par with his better films. He knows where to put the camera, when to move it, where to move it. He knows how to visually set up tension and draw the audience in while we wait to see how the scene will resolve itself.
There were some elements I did not enjoy. In addition to the acting past McAvoy, I also had an issue with the flashback scenes. My issue was not that they were there, but more that they would come in at a moment where I was really getting into the prior scene. Considering that they really don’t come into play until the end of the film, they sort of make things come to a sudden halt. I didn’t find that they enhanced the narrative they way they were designed to. I understand the purposes, I just didn’t find them as effective as they should have been.
Once Split finally settles in and becomes the film it wants to be, it becomes a really good thriller. Especially during its climax which Shyamalan had me on the edge of my seat.
Oh and that final scene? Yes! That’s all I’ll say about that.
M. Night Shyamalan puts the movie world on notice with Split. The man who came into the scene like gangbusters in 1999 is still there. He is still capable of putting out quality work and Split is an example of that. Despite its flaws, this is a really good thriller that may play a role in how he develops his future work. This is a really good film.