Back in late 2015, divisive director M. Night Shyamalan made a return to quality filmmaking with his found footage horror thriller “The Visit,” which was considered simpler than his earlier thriller films, but still a much better work than he had done in years.
This year opens up with his newest effort, “Split,” and, despite the controversy over Shyamalan’s alleged vilification of those with dissociative identity disorder (DID), I believe that the film makes for a strong creative achievement and a great calling card for Shyamalan and star James McAvoy.
“Split” follows a mysterious person by the name of “Dennis” (McAvoy), a young man who kidnaps three high school girls, Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire Benoit (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), while on their way back home from a birthday party. While being held captive, the three girls attempt to overpower Dennis, but Dennis soon comes to them acting much differently, bearing the look and mannerisms of an authoritative woman, “Patricia” (McAvoy). It is revealed that these are only two of 23 split personalities inhabiting the body of Kevin Crumb (McAvoy), who is suffering from DID.
The tension builds as the more neutral and complacent personalities are sidelined by Dennis, Patricia and child personality “Hedwig,” who are trying to make way for the terrifying 24th personality, simply referred to as “The Beast,” who is to be offered the three girls as sacrifices.
Say what you want about Shyamalan, but the filmmaker is a master at building suspense, crafting tense situations, injecting necessary humor and providing the audience with memorable characters, and he does not falter here. Shyamalan also manages to allow his creative expression to come out in full force, especially because he self-financed the project, much like he did “The Visit.”
This film is also an effective and amazing acting showcase for McAvoy. His interpretations and character ticks are strong. Taylor-Joy does not lag behind with her own acting prowess as she continues to build herself as a true talent to watch since 2015’s “The Witch.”
Nearing the end of the film, there are some lapses in logic that will have to be forgiven and suspended from reality, but it is a great ending once you do so. While this is not Shyamalan’s best writing, it is still the strongest his writing has been since “Signs,” and it also shows his ability to craft layer after layer of story and subtext with two intertwining stories being told.
This story ends with one of the finest shockers in years, and the ending is only more proof that Shyamalan is the master of the plot twist.
Overall, the film is a return to the twists and turns of Shyamalan’s early career when he was considered the next Spielberg. He coaxes fantastic performances out of everyone, and the use of DID in the film is used to profoundly visceral effect. The film has strong direction, cinematography and music, which is definitely at its strongest with the ending of the film. Shyamalan, for many, has returned to form. For me, he continues to be a vivid inspiration and someone I continue to look up to in spite of some notable hiccups. With “Split,” he has again shown the world what he has always been capable of: crafting a masterful and effective thriller.
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Release Date: Jan. 20
Rating: 5 out of 5