To say that M. Night Shyamalan has had a roller coaster ride of a career would be an understatement. He has had more ups and downs than the Dow Jones. He started off slowly then exploded with films like the Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and then fell into a decade long lull where one film he did was worse than the previous one. It got so bad that many were heard to utter “how do they keep giving this guy money to make movies?” Now, after a decent outing with the 2015 film The Visit, he is back with another film (that he also wrote) called Split. Holding our breath hoping that this would be better.
I am relieved to say that it is! Though there are some definite M. Night Shyamalan moments to be found. That means there are times where he takes his cool concepts a step too far and things become silly, but here the good outweighs the bad.
Claire (played by Haley Lu Richardson) is a teenage girl and has had a birthday party inviting all the girls from her art class. Party is over and only she, her father (played by Neal Huff), friend Marcia (played by Jessica Sula) and outsider Casey (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who was only invited because Claire did not want to be mean by only excluding her.
Claire’s father is going to drive everyone home when he is, unbeknownst to the three teenage girls in the car, attacked and thrown in the trunk of the car in the parking lot. They are then sprayed with something that knocks them all out.
Casey is the last to wake up afterwards to find that she, Claire and Marcia have been locked in a room somewhere. They have been kidnapped by a strange man (played by James McAvoy), who seems to be having mental issues and has no intention of letting them go.
A trademark of Shyamalan films has been his use of twists. This one has one in the form of Kevin’s 24th personality. That, of course, is all I am going to say about it other than Shyamalan was doing fine until this point then he went a little overboard.
That being said, the concept was super cool. Films have been made previous about multiple personalities because it is rare and hard for us to wrap our heads around. Its use in this film is rather unique and serves as a centrepiece (rather than a distraction) to the story quite well.
Split is filled with tension. Every moment from the time Kevin/Dennis kidnaps the three teenage girls until the conclusion you find no moment to relax. It grips you and does not let go. It is a thriller rather than a horror film. Definitely not your typical kidnapping film.
The main reason this film works is the acting of James McAvoy. He does not overdo things as the multiple personality character. It does not become laughable even though some of the personalities are funny. He has to stretch a lot portraying a 9-year-old boy, a very proper older British lady, a male fashion designer, a physically intimidating man with OCD, and several other personalities. Each is distinct and almost beg him to go overboard, yet he never does. And makes each one unique despite the fact that they all look, besides the way they dress, the same. McAvoy even has to morph from one personality to another in the same scene on one occasion and managed to do so without any tittering from the crowd.Versatility proven!
With his talent and Shymalan’s touch as a director it makes even the unbelievable seem plausible. Most of the time. Some will roll their eyes over the film’s last 15 minutes while others will enjoy. Make sure you see it before someone ruins the twist for you.