M. Night Shyamalan has gone through a rough patch in his filmmaking career, with flops like ‘The Happening’ and ‘The Last Airbender’ under his belt. Thankfully, the man has officially come back to form with last year’s ‘The Visit’, and ‘Split’; his newest film. Whenever we get the news of a new M. Night Shyamalan film, we have one of two reactions. One being of joy and anticipation of his newest twist ending, or disappointment and regret at how awful some of his executions are. Thankfully, ‘Split’ is more entertaining than terrible. This is a film that has a decent buildup with an amazing Oscar-worthy performance by James McAvoy.
McAvoy plays Kevin, a man suffering from DID (Dis-associative Identity Disorder) with 23 different personalities taking over his body. There’s the OCD-ridden pervert, Dennis, who tries to keep his basement (where the setting mostly takes place) clean, yet, according to his psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), likes to watch young girls dance naked; Patricia, who is the calm motherly personality that likes to keep things under control; Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy who has an expressive personality like kids his own age; and Barry, an impulsive teenager that can hold a job and likes to express himself through art. I can’t name all the personalities here. Not because of the fact that it would take so long to write this review, but ‘Split’ doesn’t delve into them as much as I thought it would.
Instead, ‘Split’ is a very claustrophobic movie where three young girls named Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula) try to escape their captor who happens to be Kevin’s many personalities. The movie gives you a feeling of discomfort by giving us extreme close-ups when we are centered in this basement, and it lets that feeling stick with you to the point where you are not sure if you should be entertained. It isn’t until the third act when the film lets loose with its chaos and gives us a buildup that is sure to produce tension and shock.
I wouldn’t say that ‘Split’ is Shyamalan’s best film (That honor still goes to ‘The Sixth Sense’), but it is sure far from terrible. I mean it when I say that McAvoy is truly fantastic in the many roles that take place inside Kevin’s mind as well as his body. Whenever he shows up on-screen, we become like the other characters in this movie, we know and see that this is one person, but his performance is so convincing that we go along with it and accept the identities; whether it would be the discomfort from Dennis, the soft-spokenness of Patricia, the awkward comedy from Hedwig, or the excitement of Barry. McAvoy nails all these performances and proves himself. Especially when it comes to his performance of a personality called “The Beast”.
As for its twist ending, I will not give it away, but I felt that it was just an excuse for M. Night Shyamalan to shoehorn in a twist. I can tell you this, it is still amazing, nonetheless. Like the movie itself. If ‘The Visit’ is a welcome back, then ‘Split’ shows that Shyamalan is here to stay.