M. Night Shyamalan. Once he was one of Hollywood’s most exciting new directors. With thrillers like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs under his belt, the media was falling over itself to announce Shyamalan as the heir apparent to Steven Spielberg. But then, well, you know the history. A bunch of duds and a Last Airbender adaptation that is widely viewed as the worst film of the 21st century later, Shyamalan had become a punchline – a joke that was always there for writers of Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show.
Split has been billed as Shyamalan’s comeback film, and you know what, it isn’t half bad. It would not have the warm reception that it did had anyone else directed it, but it’s still far from a bad movie.
(Please note: I won’t spoil the customary Shyamalan twist in this review, and I’d appreciate if anyone choosing to use the comment section also follow this, in case someone hasn’t seen the film yet).
Split is the story of 3 girls and a rather extraordinary man. Claire, her best friend Marcia and their outcast classmate Casey are kidnapped by a man going by the name of Dennis, and held in a dungeon in Dennis’ home. After being approached by many people who look like Dennis but have vastly different personalities, the girls discover that Dennis is just one of 23 distinct personalities that occupy the body of a man named Kevin, who suffers from an advanced form of split personality disorder. When one of the personalities tells the girls that they are to be sacrificed to a new, 24th personality – a powerful killer known as “The Beast”, the race is on for the girls to escape from their cell and find help.
The main power of this film comes from the actor James McAvoy, who plays the many personalities of Kevin. This includes the OCD Dennis, the childlike Hedwig, the fashion designer Barry, the motherly Patricia, as well as the damaged and disoriented Kevin and the vicious Beast himself. Each character is distinct, and even if the character doesn’t get a chance for a costume change between switching personalities, McAvoy makes it instantly obvious which personality is currently being used. It’s no mean feat, and it’s an ambitious character that could have easily failed but doesn’t, so all props to McAvoy.
Also, I will now see every McAvoy character as just another of Kevin’s personalities, which means the X-Men will never be the same again.
I also must give a shout out here to Anya Taylor-Joy, who continues on from a strong breakout role in last year’s The Witch with another strong performance as the introverted, anti-social Casey. The young actress is one of Hollywood’s best rising stars, and keep an eye out for her over the next few years to become a household name.
Many outlets have billed this film as a horror film, but in reality it isn’t really a scary movie. It’s more of a thriller. And it’s a reasonably gripping one, but the plot doesn’t necessarily do a lot for much of the movie, until the inevitable twist of course. It’s a back-to-basics approach, which isn’t exactly unwelcome from a director that continued to do too much with his films.
Something clearly needed to change…
Also, who were the 6% of critics who liked “The Last Airbender”???
The main weakness in this movie is that the ending (no spoilers) was a little… ambiguous. I saw this film with 2 friends (all 3 of us reasonably intelligent in our own opinions) and it took a full committee discussion to work out what happened at the end. A little bit of fine tuning and that would have worked much better.
Still this was a good movie. Not great, but good, and that’s the best we could have hoped for from Shyamalan I suppose.
3.4/6 – a solid thriller and a definite improvement on Shyamalan’s recent output