After years of struggling to bring audiences a compelling film, M. Night Shyamalan offered critics and movie-goers a return to form of sorts with The Visit in 2015. Though not on the same level as his earlier films, this venture saw him take a rather large step toward gaining back the trust of his fans. With the release of his latest film, the James McAvoy-starring Split, back in January, audiences everywhere suggested that the new film was Shyamalan’s strongest outing since the release of Signs 15 years ago. Now that I’ve (finally) seen Split for myself, not only can I agree with this notion, but I would go as far as saying that this is the most intense film of M. Night’s entire catalog.
Split tells the story of three teenage girls who are abducted and held captive by “Dennis,” one of the 23 personalities in the mind of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a victim of childhood abuse who suffers from dissociative personality disorder. As a 24th personality known as “The Beast” is set to manifest itself, the teenagers attempt to escape captivity before it’s too late.
Diving headfirst into spoiler territory, it’s no secret anymore that Split is a surprise sequel to Shyamalan’s 2000 superhero film, Unbreakable. Though the reveal doesn’t come until the end of the film when we see Bruce Willis’ David Dunn sitting in a diner and listening to news-watchers speculate over the Mr. Glass-like villain that the film spends nearly two hours setting up, the twist took audiences by storm and shook even those that were expecting some sort of “Shyamalan Twist.” While the twist is huge and sets up a third installment of the Unbreakable trilogy(?), Split itself is bigger than the reveal that follows. As a secret-sequel, the film sets up an exciting finale to the series, but as a standalone film, Split shines as one of the director’s greatest efforts.
Shyamalan is credited for much of Split‘s success. His script, though occasionally dipping into the absurdly unrealistic M. Night dialogue that we’ve grown accustomed to, is mostly tight- lending weight to the three characters we come to care about (yes, one of those characters is McAvoy’s Kevin) and offering plenty of tense moments for the writer/director to have a blast with behind the camera. Though the film is light on the development of other characters and leaves our lead girl in an ambiguous position, it remains incredibly intense throughout and is surprisingly funny at times.
James McAvoy has starred in a great number of films, typically giving his all to every role and being recognized as one of our generation’s greatest actors in return. With Kevin and his twenty-plus personalities (though we only witness a handful of them), McAvoy has delivered what is, for my money, his strongest performance to date. The actor is believable in his portrayal of each separate personality, seeming like a completely different person with each transformation. Though often scary, McAvoy gains intentional laughs in his performance, and though he’s done, is doing, and is poised to do horrible things, he somehow gains sympathy from the viewer in the process. Anya Taylor-Joy is incredible in Split as well, with her character being the only three of the abducted girls to be developed whatsoever. Taylor-Joy holds her own playing opposite of McAvoy’s career performance, and after shining in last year’s The Witch, she’s proven herself to be one hell of a talent and I’d love to see her cast in literally everything moving forward.
Though her character and the dialogue of her character in 2008’s The Happening are completely laughable, Betty Buckley redeems herself with a great role here as Kevin’s psychologist. The veteran actress brings a genuine kind-hearted nature to the character and is given great scenes that subtly hint at Kevin’s supernatural abilities and the Unbreakable reveal. Unfortunately, however, aside from these three characters and performances, none of the acting really stands out due to Shyamalan neglecting to flesh out the other characters in his script.
All in all, Split is a film that genre fans will love, Shyamalan supporters will want to watch repeatedly, and Unbreakable fans will geek out over. It’s not only M. Night’s greatest film since Signs, it’s one of his best ever.
Pick Split up on Blu-ray and DVD today!