A Return to Form: A Review of Split
By Matthew Rembold
There was once a time when M. Night Shyamalan was considered to be the next great writer/director. Fresh off the heels of films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Shyamalan was in his way to being one of the best. Then he began making movies like Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. Because of these misfires, he is now considered one of the worst writer/directors. However, M. Night has heard the fans and their displeasure. He has taken this to heart and decided to return to his roots by making smaller budget thrillers. Split is here and will answer the question of if there is any hope for the once great Shyamalan, or if he is doomed to make terrible films for the rest of his career.
The story follows three teenage girls, (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) who are abducted by a man diagnosed with 23 distinct personalities (James McAvoy). The girls must then discover a way to escape from the clutches of the 23 different personalities before a 24th makes its first appearance.
Right off the bat, this film has some incredible performances. James McAvoy completely steals the show with his diverse performance of Kevin and his multiple personalites. He genuinely makes each personality feel like a completely new character no matter which it is. One minute he’s an OCD man with a New Jersey accent, then the next he is playing a clumsy eight year old boy who enjoys telling people about his red socks. Each personality feels like their own character with a few getting a surprising bit of character development. McAvoy completely dominates each scene he is in.
The lead girl, Casey, is played perfectly by Anya Taylor-Joy. She has made appearances in some of the better horror films of recent years and her career continues to gain momentum with each movie she’s in. Out of the three girls, she is the most interesting, with a layered backstory that slowly reveals itself as the plot evolves. Betty Buckley also has a good performance as Dr. Fletcher, Kevin’s psychiatrist. She has some interesting interactions with Kevin during the film, but McAvoy’s performance simply outshines hers in each of their scenes.
The supporting characters on the other hand, are nowhere near as good the leads. The two other girls played by Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula fall a little too perfectly into the stereotypical scared female character in a thriller. Not only are their characters cookie-cutter characters, but their performances are not that good. Neither are very convincing, and both are sometimes annoying.
In terms of storytelling, Shyamalan is a master visual story teller. Many of his shots carry a weight to them that the audience feels. They build tensions and keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The film looks great and each shot carries a weight that projects the story along with tension. The plot itself flows very well, with the film taking its time to develop. The only issue with the plot is that there are frequent flashbacks to Casey’s past which, though vital to the understanding of the end of the film, seem to have been cut into the final product at the last minute. The transitions to the flashbacks are too sudden and break up the flow of the story. Aside from the disjointed nature of the flashbacks, the plot flows along in an interesting fashion, even if it is not entirely believable at points.
Overall, Split is an excellent return to thriller form for writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. The film is packed with nail biting sequences, incredible performances, and an intriguing plot. Disjointed flashbacks and weak supporting characters do not weigh the film down heavily at all, especially with a lead performance like McAvoy’s. It is highly advised for viewers to have seen The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs so that the film’s ending has a maximum impact on the viewer. Old school Shyamalan fans should not miss this excellent thriller.