M. Night. Shyamalan oddly twists his way back into success with ‘Split’.
It’s not up for debate that M. Night Shyamalan’s career had taken sort of a downturn over the past decade. But then mysteriously, he resurfaced with a humorous horror film last year, The Visit. It was was such a random return to form for the director, that many people were very excited to see what his next film would be, and with Split, Shyamalan isn’t just back to form, he’s fantastic.
Split tells the story of Kevin (James McAvoy), who has a serious case of dissociative identity disorder, so serious in fact, that he has 23 personalities within himself. Some of them are friendly, some are less so. One has diabetes, one has OCD. And one decides it’s a great idea to kidnap three teenage girls and keep them locked up in a cramped room for an undisclosed purpose. As the girls discover Kevin’s condition, they try to figure out a way to escape.
There are few times, where I’ve felt so helpless in a situation as the one these three girls are placed in, because unlike other kidnapping stories, they have absolutely no idea what Kevin’s motivation is, and it makes Split an even more fascinating experience. James McAvoy’s multiple performances are mind-blowing. He doesn’t hold back once in the odd and unusual throughout the film, and plays Kevin with a presence that constantly changes. Every time he switches personality, his physicality is completely new, and his entire way of being is unrecognizable. In one moment he’s a nine year old named Hedwig who really likes dancing to Kanye West, and next he’s a frustrated and OCD born recluse named Dennis. McAvoy allows himself to go over-the-top with his performance, and it really works for the story. The different personalities are manifestations of what Kevin perceives them to be, and so when I read complaints that his performance as Hedwig was too childish with a lisp, I think it’s completely justified.
The three girls that he kidnaps also give great performances. Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey gives a performance that is equally compelling to McAvoy’s. Casey has many hidden secrets herself that are slowly revealed as the movie goes on, and it gives Casey a very different approach to handling the situation compared to her two friends. Casey is quite reserved in the room, while Claire and Marcia act impulsively on things. That’s all I’ll say on their stories because I think the less you know, the better.
There’s also a therapist whom Kevin visits often, and their conversations are quite intriguing. Once again, I can’t say what they talk about.
The cramped feeling of being trapped is expressed so well throughout the movie, because only Kevin knows where they are. I quickly gave up guessing the location because I realized I wouldn’t find out anytime soon. Just getting sucked in to this thriller makes it all the more interesting. There are many people complaining that this movie is slow, and I have no idea how to respond to that, because for me, there was never a dull moment. Okay maybe one, but it lasts for maybe a minute, and it doesn’t take away from the movie one bit. I was constantly on edge and always wanted to know what would happen next.
No movie is perfect however. While the writing is really great for the two leads, the dialogue for the two other girls is weak. Their motivation makes sense, but their lines didn’t feel realistic. They also never seemed to learn from their mistakes. The movie also advertises that Kevin has 23 personalities, but we only get to truly see 6 in action. Story-wise it makes sense, but it left me a little disappointed that we don’t get to see the majority of them at all.
In true Shyamalan fashion, the conclusion leaves us surprised, and it is probably the biggest surprise I’ve ever seen in a film. For better or for worse.
But check this movie out. It’s mysterious, thrilling, and overall terrifying.
This time, Elliot ALMOST forgives Shyamalan for The Last Airbender.