| Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, and must try and escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.
We can all agree that when the name M. Night Shyamalan is attached to a project, the groans, the eye rolling and the utter disinterest immediately hits you. Whatever goodwill he did with Sixth Sense, Unbreakable & Signs seems to have been completely destroyed with whatever he did after that. But with Split he does a decent job of crafting a tale to keep you hooked into the movie. While certainly not original, Split’s plot is a culmination of smaller stories that detail the background info of a majority of our characters, helping to develop them in the short run time. All of these tales have a moral twist to it, but one story in particular raises an intriguing concept that may provide some food for thought, or at least an ethical dilemma for future talks.
Where the movie truly excels is in the performances. As one might imagine, getting to play a character with multiple personalities seems like a dream job for an actor, and James McAvoy absolutely makes a meal out of his chance. It’s basically a tour de force for him, allowing him to show off tremendous range (from playful humor, to genuine, pitch-black menace); not only does he invest each of the identities with consistent mannerisms and body language, but the manner in which he shifts between them is unsettling in all the right ways. His character’s relationship with Buckley’s doctor is one of the most sneakily effective elements of the whole story, too, and McAvoy plays off Buckley in a really great way (and she gives it her all, as well, imbuing that character with profound decency and humanity). If anybody questions McAvoy’s abilities as an actor, Split should immediately quiet those notions. It’s superb work.
“The broken are the more evolved”
Opposite McAvoy is Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey, and within her is where the real heart and emotion of the tale reside. At first she appears to be a tightly-wound coil of anxiety, but she eventually reveals an intellect and strength which make her a capable match for McAvoy’s antics. Taylor-Joy seems effortlessly real, intensely grounded. There’s an authentic quality to her moments on screen which make it incredibly easy to buy into her character. In the span of a single year, Anya Taylor-Joy has now brought us three flat-out excellent performances (in The Witch, Barry, and now Split) and has made herself one of the most impressive actresses of her age group.
One of the other notable things in the film is the pairing of Shyamalan and the cinematographer Mike Gioulakis from ‘It Follows’ fame. I’m not sure how extensively these two worked to decide on the shots used in the movie, but they do a spectacular job of conveying and causing claustrophobia throughout the film, making the audiences feel the small, scary spaces in Kevin’s basement that the characters feel. It adds to the tension that Shyamalan is obviously going for.
However the movie seems to lose its way towards the end. Some implausibilities hurt the movie to a certain degree. When all is finally revealed at the end, more questions were created than answered. Outside of the twenty-three-personality quirk, you can guess much of the backstory of each character and where the film is going around the 30-minute mark. Also out of the twenty-three personalities that Kevin supposedly has, we only ever see about five or six at the most, leaving me to wonder why even bother with such an outlandish number. The two other girls that get captured along overacted or underacted most of the time and usually did some pretty stupid stuff. The other thing that took me out of the movie was the first big twist near the end of the movie. Without going into detail (because of you know.. spoilers) it didn’t really land for me, and even though the second reveal at the end of the movie helps to explain its plausibility, I still wasn’t the biggest fan of how it was executed, especially when compared to some earlier exposition in the movie.
Shyamalan has made a good few stinkers in the last 15 years, but he’s done well to break the regular trend and make a movie with grit, tension and quality. It still suffers from his usual problem, that it’s not as clever as he thinks it is, but like his better work it has a strong emotional core due to great performances by McAvoy and Joy, plus a decent narrative structure.
‘Split’ gets a 7.1/10.
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!