Is Split M.Night Shyamalan’s piece de resistance?
Back in the late nineties and early part of this century, perhaps no film maker had more buzz surrounding his films than M. Night Shyamalan. Known for his signature twists at the end of his movies, this filmmaker became famous for his innovative style and was on his way to being canonized as a directorial genius. Movies like Signs and Sixth Sense were representative of his aura. People began to anticipate his new releases with an unruly fervor and it all reached a boiling point with The Village. The bait and switch that was that movie angered movie audiences and was a major blow to the reputation of Shyamalan. For someone known for movie ending twists, perhaps the cruelest twist for Shyamalan was that his career never quite recovered from that mishap. Sure he made some other movies, like The Last Airbender or Lady in the Water but those were met with lukewarm anticipation and average reviews. Keeping a low profile for the most part the last few years, Split is the latest offering in M. Night Shyamalan’s comeback trail. Perhaps the failure of The Village was the serving of humble pie that Shyamalan needed because Split is a welcome oasis in the barren film desert that is the month of January.
Split is an oddly compelling and curious story about three girls who are abducted by a man named Kevin and several of his other “associates”. The catch with all of Kevin’s associates is that they are different personalities that all live in his one body. There are 23 of them in fact that we are made aware of in this film. Apparently Kevin suffers from dissociative identity disorder or D.I.D and Split is a fascinating study into how these different personalities can affect the single human body. These kidnapped girls are in a desperate race against time to escape before all these personalities of Kevin manifest themselves into a supposedly singular horrific entity….the culmination meaning a violent and gory end for them. Along the way Kevin’s therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, tries to provide him counseling so that he can lead a stable life, unaware of his sinister plot to punish these girls he’s kidnapped.
Split is put together very well. The film is shot with tremendous skill and precision. There is a sense of foreboding dread in each scene. There are some flashback scenes of the main female protagonist, played by Anya Taylor Joy, that are intercut with the current events of the film but these duel tales complement each other well and help to give tremendous insight and depth to this mysterious Casey Cook character. Anya Taylor Joy was terrific in The Witch which came out last year and she is amazing again in this film. Her presence as Casey overshadows the other two girls who are pretty good in their own right. However, this movie belongs to James McAvoy. Normally known to the world as Professor X of X-Men fame, it was a delight to see McAvoy convey each different type of personality so masterfully and play such a demented, disturbing villain. He provides just the right amount of dark humor interlaced with horrific creepiness. With Split, McAvoy and Anya Taylor Joy show that they are true professionals who are brilliant at their craft.
This psychological thriller does toe the line between brutal realism and the absurd. The whole movie builds up and up to something dreadful but it never quite reaches the heights that its premise promised. However what we do witness is compelling and captivating and it will leave you on the edge of your seat. The ending will be delightful for some and confusing for many with the expected unexpected Shyamalan twist. That being said, the experience is thrilling enough as you will be contemplating this movie for a while after leaving the theater. M.Night Shyamalan may not be all the way back. But he’s getting close and he delivers with this one. If you’re split about watching Split…don’t be.