You know M. Night Shyamalan has a bad reputation for making bad movies when the studio doesn’t even want you to know that he is directing a movie. That’s what happened to the trailer for the film Split. James McAvoy acts like a crazy person to get you interested in seeing the movie and right at the end..BOOM!
‘An original thriller from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’
…and the entire theater groans in disappointment. It is like Hollywood knows that M has such a bad rep, they would rather not even tell you he has anything to do with the film to save the box office. Add that to the fact this film was released in January and this film had ‘horrible nightmare’ written all over it, so I’m glad to tell you it actually isn’t that bad.
Split begins with the worst birthday party in the world. Three teenage girls with their TV show dad are attacked by a man in the parking lot and kidnaps the women. He takes them to an underground prison where they can’t escape. They discover that the man is named Kevin (James McAvoy) and he suffers from a dissociative identity disorder. Because of this Kevin possesses 23 alternate personalities which all fight for ‘control’ over Kevin’s body. One of his personalities Dennis is working to release Kevin’s 24th and the last personality called ‘the beast’. The girls work tirelessly to find a way to escape before the beast arrives to take his prey.
If you have watched M. Night Shyamalan’s films before, you know that no matter how silly the concept of the film is, he always likes to play it straight, Split is no different. James McAvoy does a great job at being frightfully disturbing and downright silly at the same time. The concept allows him to do both without coming off as corny and camp. That doesn’t mean that the script doesn’t come without its silly moments.
One of the biggest criticisms with Shyamalan is that he tends to have moments in his films where you don’t know if it’s supposed to be played seriously or not. Especially when the audience is laughing at the ridiculousness of certain scenes but those moments are few and far between here. When McAvoy isn’t the focus, the film shifts to Casey played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Casey is slowly built as a damaged young girl who knows more about safety and survival than she probably should. You learn bits and pieces about her past and it becomes clear that she is going through an extremely difficult time. Despite this, she is the most level-headed of the three girls and always looks for ways out of her imprisonment.
Shyamalan always seems to have a supernatural element to his movies. When Kevin’s personalities describe ‘The Beast’ they describe a being that has capabilities that far exceeds a human. The film does a great job building up the reveal of The Beast and it turns out to be freakier than advertised. The Beast possesses peak human abilities like a vicious version of Captain America. In typical monster movie lore, the beast attacks and eats people who he feels haven’t felt ‘true suffering’ before.
The ending of the film is actually one of the cleverest twists that Shyamalan has done in years. While the abilities of the beast aren’t completely out of the realm of possibility, it does rise to some questions about ‘How?’ The twist of the film is that this movie is actually a sequel to one of M’s previous films and knowing this puts the story in the proper perspective and makes the ending more enjoying.
Split does have its issues with the writing and doesn’t utilize the entire cast as well as it should. Shyamalan’s old tropes are still around but overall Split does just enough to not only give you a ride worth the price of admission but puts just a little more faith in M. Night Shyamalan films going forward. McAvoy brings the character of ‘James’ to life and Taylor-Joy carries the emotional workload.
Could this be a start of a resistance for the King of the twist? Maybe? But Split shows that at the very least we are heading back in the right direction.