It’s pretty safe to say that M. Night Shyamalan had a pretty rough patch in the middle of his career after finding success with ‘Signs’ and ‘The Sixth Sense’. But recently with the success of ‘Wayward Pines’, ‘The Visit’, and now ‘Split’ i think it’s safe to say he has found his element once again, his little corner of filmmaking where he can write and direct thrilling content. Split is a Horror/Thriller that follows the abduction of three teenage girls by Kevin, a man diagnosed with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) who has 23 different personalities all sharing control of his body. Shyamalan is a fantastic writer and he really shows that off in this film. Not only is the plot thrilling and slowly calculating its way to a big finale but the way some of the characters were written with their interactions throughout the film was truly impressive. Performances from Haley Lu Richardson and Anya Taylor-Joy were great and sold the terror they were experiencing really well. The real star of the film however was James McAvoy who was captivating and expertly portrayed the various personalities with perfection.
I’ll get my main criticism of this film out of the way early as it is the same criticism i had with his last film ‘The Visit’. And that is the beginning of the film, both films have very different styles of openings and introductions but i feel like both have been executed poorly. Here my main issue was that for the first 10-15 minutes or so the editing was off, felt very choppy and i was finding it hard to really get invested in the film and it’s story. The introduction to the story and various side characters if handled better would have made the start of the film much tighter. But as the film progresses it drastically picks up the pace and gets more intense, thrilling, and pretty well made. It takes so many unexpected turns throughout the film that you just never know what is going to happen next and this element of constant surprise is what keeps you invested. The film gradually gets darker and there is a sense of uneasiness that builds and builds ultimately blending the thriller and horror themes. The film never actually goes full horror though, i think a ‘Psychological Thriller’ is a more suitable description for this film as it does have you think a little more than you thought you would. It does a great job at adding a lot of complexity and backstory to McAvoy’s character giving you a greater understanding of why he is the way he is, which was really cool.
But now, yes Shyamalan did a fantastic job writing and directing this film but without James McAvoy’s performance(s) this film wouldn’t work at all. He was at times riveting as he transitioned between different personalities from scene to scene with ease. And it wasn’t his wardrobe that dictated which personality he was emitting, it was the way he altered his facial expressions, vocal expressions, physical chemistry and behaviour that told you in a ‘split’ second who was in charge. No makeup, no prosthetics, just pure talent to be able to alter his facial configuration to match an individual character. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) plays the lead female role (Casey) and she really is great in the film. I’m glad to see her getting more roles as she has immense talent and she shows some of that off here. The way in which she interacts with McAvoy and the chemistry between her and his various personalities was very convincing. Haley Lu Richardson is an actress i wasn’t aware of until i saw her in ‘The Edge of Seventeen’, and she is someone who i want to see more of as i think she has plenty of talent. Although what this film did is confirm that she is probably more suited for roles in dramatic films as oppose to horrors…. but time will tell.
Another thing to note is that there are some flashback sequences that are injected multiple times throughout the film admittedly at some odd times. Now in the end these flashbacks did come back around and have some purpose within the context of the main story but for me, they could have been minimised down to maybe 1 or 2 flashbacks…. just a minor nitpick.
So in the end, Split has a rocky start, but once it picks up the pace and the it gets more gripping it turns into a very well Written, Directed, and executed Psychological Thriller with some horror elements woven in there. There are great performances across the board, especially from Jame McAvoy who steals the film with his ability to portray multiple characters at once. And of course, being an M. Night Shyamalan film there is the trademark big twist, but this one is a twist unlike many of his previous ones. I won’t go into any detail to avoid spoiling it but it is a twist i don’t think anyone at all will see coming, so if you are planning on seeing this film, see it early to avoid it being spoiled over social media.