‘Split’ is Solid — M. Night Shyamalan’s New Movie is the Second Best of his Career
I believe that, besides getting it very right once with The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan was never more than a mediocre writer/director (and sometimes even trekked into ‘terrible’ territory. Cough-Cough-The Last Airbender-Cough). Unbreakable (2000)had a abysmal and rushed conclusion, Lady in the Water (2008) was a self-indulgent disaster, and After Earth (2013) boasts an 11% on Rotten Tomatoes just to name a few.
However, after becoming a parody of himself over the course of the 2000’s, the Shyamalan hath returned. This movie isn’t another The Sixth Sense, but you can tell that Shyamalan was actually passionate about this film; the film is fun! The result of these renewed efforts is a solid, entertaining thriller with adequate plot, directing, acting, and an overall entertaining movie.
In Split, three teenagers, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire, and Marcia are kidnapped from a parking lot after a birth party by Kevin (James McAvoy) who suffers from severe dissociative identity disorder resulting in multiple identities and accompanying personalities. Kevin locks the girls inside a small basement room. As Kevin’s personas start to visit the girls, they quickly become scared for their lives, simultaneously trying to figure out what Kevin plans to do with them and how to escape.
The star of the show is undoubtedly James McAvoy. He goes all out and masterfully balances over-the-top and terrifying with his eccentric characters. He gets all of the laughs in the film and earns every one of them with his great timing and delivery. The comedy was used perfectly within the film, nicely juxtaposing and heightening the horror. Anya Taylor-Joy is also very good coming off of her solid performance in Witch (2015), and plays a good foil to Kevin — the calm and reserved to his zaniness. Betty Buckley who plays Kevin’s therapist in the film also does very well with her somewhat limited, but nonetheless important part.
Shyamalan does an adequate job with directing. 95% of the time you don’t notice the camera and he employs some nice visual motifs from time to time. However, during a couple scenes he has several abrupt mid-scene cuts that slightly-disorient the audience (and these are not scenes in the film where it is intentionally meant to be disorienting). Additionally, in a scene during the resolution of the film, his camerawork comes off as contrived and a bit rudimentary when it is clear that his repeated panning shots are intended to be symbolic.
I have a couple problems with the plot of the Casey and think that her backstory is thin and uses a lazy and cheap plot device. The only other gripe that I have with the film is that I wish a particular plot point reveal for a Casey was moved to later in the film during the climax to heighten the moment even more; but that’s just a stray observation and is really only included here as a talking point for anyone else who has seen the film.
Split isn’t quite as good as 2016’s amazing 10 Cloverfield Lane or Green Room, but is nonetheless definitely worth a watch if you like thriller/horror films.