M Night Shyamalan’s career has had its ups and downs. He was quickly pigeonholed as the “what a twist” guy but I’ve always enjoyed The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and I’m still torn between whether The Happening was a satire of 50s & 60s horror movies or if it was really just a bad movie. The less said about The Last Airbender the better and I can’t say I’ve seen much of the rest of his work. He does seem like a filmmaker who is in his element when dealing with intense lower budget claustrophobic horror films.
Split tells the story of 3 teenage girls who are abducted after a birthday party by Kevin (James McAvoy), a deeply disturbed man with 23 diagnosed personalities. While parts of Kevin’s mind fights against what is happening and try to seek help from his psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) the girls must try to escape before the awakening of a terrifying 24th personality they have been captured in anticipation for.
As with many other of Shyamalan’s films this movie is difficult to talk about without divulging spoilers. It’s one best gone in blind and having the same experience as the 3 teenage kidnap victims with no knowledge of what is happening until it is revealed. Unfortunately much of the movie is spoiled in not only the trailers. It even the very poster for the movie itself. It’s a movie which would benefit from the “mystery box” nature marketing most of J.J Abrams’ projects enjoy.
That said a movie with a story like this hinges on the lead actor’s ability to believably pull off a performance and McAvoy is in great form here. On the commentary track for a lesser known serial killer film “Ted Bundy” the director was marvelling at how his lead actor seemed to be able to change the shape of his head for the sake of the title role, it sounds silly I know but you could almost swear McAvoy was doing the same thing in this movie as he shifts between characters.
Now while the magic number is 2 dozen personalities to be fair we only see 6 or 7 throughout the entire film and the vast majority is spent on only 3 or 4. At first this might sound disappointing but I think Shyamalan knew full well at what point changing personalities would have just become silly. What we see is a glimpse into the life of a seriously disturbed individual and had the script pushed it any further it would have lost the impact and seemed more satirical than anything. There’s only so many seperate accents they could have pulled out before whipping out one with a Jamaican accent or the like.
Up against McAvoy are his three captives and possible soon to be victims. All 3 actresses give believable performances however the film is definitely built primarily around the perspective of one of them, Casey (Ana Taylor-Joy). An outsider with past trauma of her own. The film focuses so much on her and her alone at the expense of the other 2 girls that the film seems to forget about their presence at points. What’s more the flashbacks of her childhood are quite disturbing and while these are supposed to act as a mirror to the trauma of “Kevin” which made him the men he is now if anything it overshadows it.
Split is a solid thriller which might not be as much of an instant cult classic as sixth sense but it M Night back at what he does best. Ignoring some cheesy moments the film is well worth the price of admission for the great performance(s) of McAvoy alone.
3 1/2 out of 5