Split – Blu-ray review
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
M. Night Shyamalan is a filmmaker who started off so damn strong with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, started worrying me with the uneven Signs, and then went steeply downhill with The Village, Lady in the Water, and the laughable (but not in a good way) The Happening. And the less said about The Last Airbender and After Earth the better. But then with 2015’s The Visit, Shyamalan showed he still had the goods when he stripped all the crap away and returned to telling tightly focused tales. That one movie alone didn’t completely change my opinion that while M. Night might have started off as a wunderkind, he was only a hack now, but it was a step in the right direction. Now there’s Split; was that another step in the right direction on the Shyamalan comeback trail, or did he once again slip and fall right on his face? Let’s find out.
Three high school girls are abducted in broad daylight by a very odd man. We soon learn that the kidnapper has been diagnosed with an astonishing 23 distinct personalities, and that he has plans for the three girls. No, it’s not what you think, it’s far, far worse. You see, the 23 people living inside one body have a reverence and fear for a legendary 24th personality. This new side to the man is stronger than all the other personalities combined, can do unbelievable things, and has the cheery name of The Beast. The captive girls are for Him to feast on when He arrives, so go ahead and start that ticking clock.
There are many things to like about Split. First, this is M. Night Shyamalan returning to what he does best: telling thrilling stories of tension with a limited cast in limited locations. I can only assume that having a number of blockbuster bombs, such as Airbender and After Earth, has humbled him and caused him to get back to basics. So far that has been paying off well for him, as both The Visit and now Split are very good, very small films that deliver a hell of a punch. Next there is the cast, all of whom do good work here, but the two standouts are, appropriately enough, the two leads. Anya Taylor-Joy, of The Witch fame, is wonderful as the hero girl out of the three abductees. She is believable in both her strength and vulnerability as a frightened but aware victim fighting for survival. Then there is James McAvoy who is easily and by far the star of the show as our multi-sided antagonist. Now he doesn’t really have to portray all 24 of the personalities his character has, but there are at least a half dozen parts of his fractured psyche that he does have to bring to life. He does that and then some, making each identity unique and identifiable with little more than accents, body language, some help from the wardrobe department, but mostly acting: lots and lots of spot-on, amazing to watch, acting. I don’t know if James McAvoy will win any awards for his work here, since this could be classified as a “genre film” and those that give awards usually turn up their noses at such things, but he deserves to do so.
The plot is more thriller than standard horror, although there are some real frights to be had here as well. The ending is where I have heard of some divisiveness among the audience, but I thought it worked. The final scene at the end was especially effective and that took this movie to a whole other level no one, and I mean no one, was expecting. If someone tells you, “I saw that coming” then they are a liar. For me, that was the cherry on top that made an already very good movie into a great one. Yeah, you heard that right: M. Night Shyamalan has made a truly great movie again. Who knew that he still had it in him?