“Directed by M. Night Shyamalan” is a phrase that’s been associated with several cinematic disasters. The less said about the likes of Avatar, The Happening, After Earth and The Lady in the Water have all been savaged by the critics & fans alike. A roll of dishonour! It wasn’t until The Visit (2015) that his slow climb back up to redemption started. Split is the latest release by the eccentric director, will this movie prove that Shyamalan has still got it, or if The Visit was just a one off?
Split, as the name suggests, is about Kevin (James McAvoy), a person with split personalities, 23 of them to be exact! Kevin abducts 3 girls, and it’s via his interactions with his therapist, that we come to find out the sinister workings of our conflicted figure.
McAvoy is by far the strongest aspect of the film, and does an outstanding job in portraying his various alter egos. Obviously the movie doesn’t show all 23 egos in the film, but the ones that do get screen time are wonderfully unique in their own way. We have ‘Dennis’, the intimidating alpha male, ‘Ms Patricia’, the caring mother, ‘Hedwig’, the immature 9 year old boy & ‘Barry’, the colourful fashion designer. It’s not just the simple costume changes that convey each character, but the body language and mannerisms that McAvoy manages to assign each persona. It’s a great shame the film missed out on the Oscar nominations for this year.
The supporting cast is a mixed bag, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) our main protagonist, and the wisest of the three kidnapped girls, does a solid job as the calm, collected, yet emotionally scarred heroine. As her past is slowly revealed, you do feel for her, and care for her survival. Her other two friends though, feel disposable, and their lack of smarts pretty much makes them forgettable. Betty Buckley as Dr Fletcher makes a challenging foil to Kevin, it’s her interactions with our psychotic kidnapper that really opens up the clashes within his mind.
The film is essentially told in 3 segments. Kevin, Dr Fletcher and the girls. The scenes with Kevin & Dr Fletcher are the most intriguing, and provide the best parts of the movie. It’s the scenes featuring the trapped girls, where the film tends to fall into the horror cliches. It’s pretty predictable what will happen to them in their scenes, and slows the movie down a lot.
Split is by far the best movie that Shyamalan has released in well over a decade, after a string of disasters; it’s relieving to see a throwback to his earlier movies, such as Signs, Unbreakable & The 6th Sense, when his directing was more visionary than sporadic. Split builds up the suspense in is tremendous ways, and this is mostly due to the charisma of McAvoy, the plot does well to weave in the multiple personalities, but the ending is quite hit & miss. It’s not as dramatic as The 6th Sense, the finale is a lot more subtle. I can see viewers either loving the ending, or being disappointed by it. Long term fans of Shyamalan will be delighted by the cameo at the end, so stay seated after the final scenes!
January hasn’t been a stellar month for releases over here in the UK, and Split isn’t the perfect movie, but it is by far the best film to hit our shores at the start of this year!