Let’s face it – after 2004’s The Village, it was all downhill for the once-critically acclaimed director M. Night Shyamalan. Every film that comes after that was a complete disaster, especially the appalling trash that was The Last Airbender. Shyamalan was no longer the accomplished director that he once was. I stopped believing in his talent and became indifferent to the succeeding motion pictures that capitalized on his name for the sake of the film’s success.
But then comes 2016’s The Visit, a suprisingly good found-footage horror film that marked the director’s return to form. The clever twist on the innocent story of meeting your grandparents for the first time blew me through the roof and made me start to believe in him again. And with this year’s Split, Shyamalan pretty much secured his name once more as a horror movie extraordinaire. Yes, the director is officially back in the game.
In the movie, James McAvoy plays the role of Kevin, a young man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, or what would some people like to refer to as a split personality. He has 23 distinct personalities inside of him, but as we learn throughout the rest of the film, a 24th identity is waiting to be unleashed. This identity is called “The Beast” and it wants to feast on the flesh of the pure and uncorrupted as a “sacred food.”
Split is composed of three interwoven narratives. The first one, which serves as the driving force of the movie, follows the survival of three unsuspecting girls after getting abducted by one of McAvoy’s malevolent identities. The second explores the relationship between McAvoy’s personalities and Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who seems to have observed some worrying signs of instability from her client despite their long-established sessions. The third sees one of the abducted girls, The Witch star Anya Taylor-Joy, in flashback scenes as a kid where her devastating past is revealed in deliberate fashion. Under Shyamalan’s skillful direction, these plot points are carefully combined to form an engaging thriller reminiscent of the filmmaker’s classic masterpieces all the while remaining sensitive to those who are broken and banished.
The first thing to love in this film is, without a doubt, James McAvoy. A movie like Split wouldn’t come out as effective as this one without an actor of McAvoy’s caliber in the lead role. The British actor manages to pull off the feat of bringing these diverse characters to life with such fine distinction and detail, my personal favorite being those scenes that involves Barry, Kevin’s quirky fashion designer persona. He sure has come a long way since I first saw him in the first Chronicles of Narnia movie.
The girls are also a welcome addition to the good points of the movie. While other films under the same genre go for the overworked representation of abduction victims, Shyamalan opts for a smarter bunch of teenagers. The girls here are clever and quick to look for any possible escape, making it impossible for the viewers not to root for all of them to find their way out alive.
However, as much as I love the film, Split is also not without its flaws. For the most part, the film plays out as a thriller, but there are moments where the horror factor isn’t quite as effective as I thought it would be. Nevertheless, what the film lacks in that department, it greatly makes up for it with its engrossing story, beautiful acting, and a touching message of support for those who have suffered trauma. The surprising twist at the end (it wouldn’t be a Shyamalan film without his signature last-minute twists) is just basically frosting on top of an already delicious cake.
In conclusion, Split is an entertaining psychological thriller that reaffirms M. Night Shyamalan’s status as a horror movie connoisseur, thanks to a solid script and an impressive performance from James McAvoy.