M. Night Shyamalan is back! No, not the The Happening–Lady in the Water–The Last Airbender–After Earth toxic one. It’s the Unbreakable–Signs–The Sixth Sense celebrated one. I wouldn’t say Split is as great as his earlier films, but I can safely attest he has taken a giant step in the right direction.
Split is a psychological thriller built on a “what if” – what if a man with 23 personalities kidnaps three young girls and a 24th personality threatens to appear in the looming horizon. How will the game be played with the 24th? Will anyone survive?
Shyamalan’s films always adhere to an over-used template in which the final twist of the knife is the whole selling point and he draws compelling characters and builds a grounded story to encompass it. If the film works, especially his early ones, the twist is the most memorable aspect that is seared into your brain. In his successful films, the twists always feel earned. With Split, Shyamalan doesn’t quite tread the same path (some of you may think the final scene has a OMG-WTF twist, but I see it more as a clever coda with a link to an earlier film). The conceit of movies involving characters with multiple personality disorder is that the revelation of the mental illness is the eventual twist, with movies like Psycho (1960), Dressed to Kill (1980) and Identity (2003) coming to mind. Split wisely stayed clear of the well-trodden path and is able to give us a different type of monstrosity, holding my attention throughout.
All would be naught if not for James McAvoy’s tour de force performance to sell the premise. He plays all his roles with chilling finesse. With a variance to his voice, mannerisms, facial expressions and body language, he sold every character with aplomb and then some. As I typed this out, 9-year-old Hedwig and matronly Patricia still send shivers down my spine. The three girls also gave excellent performances and their character traits efficiently differentiated for interesting group dynamics to happen in some kind of evil lair. But we are clearly persuaded to follow Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) whom I last saw in the outstanding The Witch (2015). In clever flashbacks we are given crucial context of how Casey’s mind ticks and how she stands the best chance of escaping this terrifying ordeal. But will she? Finally, there is Betty Buckley who is sympathetic as the psychiatrist, but being a professional in her field some of her actions beg for scrutiny. Some of her expositional dialogue also drag the movie down at some spots.
The tension is neatly build up to a feverish climax with a whole suite of cinematic tricks thrown in for good measure. I was perched on my seat as the story closes on an impactful soul-searching note. It was a very satisfying ending for this reviewer with his wifey in equal agreement. Then, if that’s not good enough, trust Shyamalan to lay one final moment on you that will make your jaw hang open in a mixture of geeky joy and pure shock. Oh yeah… make it happen pleaseeeeeee!
3.5 / 5