Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Kim Director, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus and Betty Buckley.
Three girls must escape their captor, a man with 24 different personalities some of whom are intent on keeping the girls captive and others who are trying to take back control and save them.
Before I went to see Split I decided to have a quick Google search of M. Night Shyamalan just to remind myself of the seemingly downward turn his films have taken and to see what he’s been up to, having taken very little notice of his work since The Happening. Underneath all the reviews for Split and usual IMDB and Wikipedia entries were two articles that caught my eye, one from FiveThirtyEight in 2015 titled The Death Spiral of M. Night Shyamalan’s Career and a piece from Vulture in 2013 titled Where it all Went Wrong for M. Night Shyamalan, both discussing very much what is stated in their titles throughout the pieces, with some excellent analysis, on the lower quality and Box Office returns on his films. I am hopeful that in ten years from now when these kind of think pieces are written again they will point to Split as the point where he started to turn things back around.
Split starts fast, with three girls Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) abducted by one of Kevin’s (James McAvoy) identities, using Claire’s dad’s car and taken to a secret underground location where they are locked up and start to encounter some of Kevin’s several identities whom they try to manipulate into helping them escape. We also get a side along story with Kevin visiting his psychiatrist (Betty Buckley) who believes that people with Kevin’s condition, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), can change their own biology with their belief in their abilities.
Considering Shyamalan’s well known penchant for plot twists and turns, Split is a straightforward story driven by the performance from McAvoy as Kevin’s multiple identities. Their engagement with his psychiatrist and in particular with the character of Casey, whom we see in flashbacks has led a troubled and abused life, sheds light on the backstory but without lending itself to sympathy. McAvoy’s performance is stunning, switching between a matriarchal imposing female, to a 9-year-old child with a totally different voice and a straight laced protector of the group within Kevin’s mind. Shyamalan’s script combined with McAvoy’s performance make each of these truly distinct with their own speech quirks and habits which makes him all the more chilling a captor.
It is great to see Shyamalan can still bring out some of the techniques that made him such a lauded director/writer with his first few pictures. He still knows how to build tension, cut through the tension with moments of levity before bringing us crashing back down. That said I found the finale somewhat flat, with the build up to the eventual “monster” not a metaphor or creation of the identities as it feels like we are building to but something else entirely. It feels like a cop-out, an excuse for the actions of a predator with a desire for young women to satiate him. That is obviously not the intention but in using young women and alluding to the various desires of the personalities it certainly felt that way, not to mention feeling a little bit ludicrous in the context of what we’ve already seen.
My disappointment with the ending aside I enjoyed lots of this film, the performances from Anya Taylor-Joy as well as McAvoy goes beyond the usual outsider and shows the strength and resiliency someone with her past can have. McAvoy gives his best performance to date, his creepiness and ability to make this whole story go cannot be understated – it would have been easy for this to seem hilarious rather than totally terrifying to behold. Split’s greatest testament to its director and writer is how immersed and real it felt – right up to the finale.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★