After three girls are kidnapped by a man with 24 dual personalities they must find some of the different personalities that can help them while running away and staying alive from the others.
M. Night Shyamalan has became a punchline in recent years for schlocky films with terrible twists and terrible endings, but he was once a talented director with the likes of ‘Signs’, ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘Unbreakable’ all garnering good reviews and showing his ability to craft strong narratives with tinges of the supernatural. ‘Split’ isn’t a return to form per se, but it is a far more enjoyable film than the majority of his recent efforts and it’s an effective, but flawed thriller. The film begins with the kidnap of three teenage girls by a man called Dennis (James McAvoy), who turns out to be one of 23 distinct, split personalities inhabiting the body and mind of a man named Kevin. From this point onward the film gets weirder and weirder, but much of the fun in watching ‘Split’ is in how it unashamedly embraces its premise and explores its themes in interesting ways.
‘Split’ is fairly conventional to begin with for anyone who’s watched kidnapping movies before, as the three girls attempt to find ways to escape, then ways to reason with their captor in the hope of reaching safety. The girls are played by Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula and Anya Taylor-Joy, who is no stranger to horror after her turn in last year’s ‘The Witch’ (a film critics in general loved, but I hated). Taylor-Joy is our primary viewpoint out of the girls and we spend time flashing back to her childhood, which doesn’t feel entirely necessary even as it explains more about her character. This is James McAvoy’s movie though, and he is completely magnetic and brilliant to watch as he switches between various personalities at different points in time. The film comes into its own as we start learning more about his character and his different personalities, with Betty Buckley’s psychiatrist often acting as an exposition dump to reveal more about him. McAvoy is clearly having an absolute ball embodying a variety of personalities and his performance often feels improvised which works really well for this kind of material. He’s seamless in transitioning between characters and it’s almost like flicking a switch as he moves between genders, age groups and mindsets almost effortlessly, funny one moment then frightening the next.
If there’s a main criticism of the film it’s in the way its narrative plays out in the final third, often settling for the obvious path and ramping up the supernatural elements when ‘Kevin’ was much more frightening when he was grounded in (an admittedly farfetched) degree of scientific possibility. Despite this, Shyamalan knows how to create suspense and his direction really ramps up the tension as the film reaches the final stages and I liked the characters enough that I cared about their fate. **SEE THE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE FOR A SPOILER RELATING TO THE POST CREDITS SCENE.
‘Split’ is a movie that finds M. Night Shyamalan getting back into his groove, directing a fun and effective thriller that had me entertained for the majority of the runtime, and it’s worth seeing alone for a scenery chewing, excellent James McAvoy performance.
Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson, Kim Director, Brad William Henke, Lyne Renee, Neal Huff and Sebastian Arcelus
**I was less enamoured with a post credits scene that links this film to one of Shyamalan’s efforts from 15 years ago, which just felt a bit strange (it’s been so long since I’ve seen the particular film involved so I can’t recall if there’s anything in common between the films, but it felt tacked on for the sake of it).