M. Night Shyamalan is back.
Director M. Night Shyamalan was a Hollywood powerhouse with films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable in late 90s and early 2000s. However, after overly used gimmick on twist and bizarre taste of campy, it becomes hard to take the director seriously. It’s even worse with The Village and The Last Airbender, and an all time low with After Earth where the studio won’t even use the director’s name in promotional materials anymore. That all changes with 2015’s The Visit where Shyamalan revamps his style once again, and the horror tale where two kids have to visit their grandparents is actually pretty good. It turns out it’s just the beginning of Shyamalan’s comeback.
Split stars James McAvoy as Kevin, a man who suffers dissociative personality disorder (DID). Kevin has over 23 personalities inside him, and some of them are dangerous. The story begins with three high school girls, including our protagonist Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor Joy), kidnapped by Kevin and have to experience Kevin’s disorder first-handed. Meanwhile, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), a DID specialist who’ve been treating Kevin, notices something odd in one of the personalities, and she must find out what her patient has been hiding.
The film’s narration approach is great for us, the audiences, to find out Kevin’s disorder along with the kidnapped girls. The tension and mystery thickens as we have absolutely no idea what’s going on, and terrified of what’s going to happen to these girls. While the script appears to be a horror kidnapping tale, it’s actually a well-disguised self-discovery tale. The story carefully balancing out between mystery and emotional moments, and it tells a story of a young girl fighting in a world of monsters and threats. Other than Shyamalan’s awesome script and direction, it’s also Mike Gioulakis’ camera work that pulls the viewers into Kevin’s mess-up world. Not to mention wonderful performances from McAvoy and Joy.
Obviously, playing a role with multiple personalities mean McAvoy will be receiving the most praise of the film. The role is a challenging one that really puts his acting skill on the test, and it’s fun watching him switching between personalities. From the OCD Dennis to the childish Hedwing, McAvoy makes the differences in these personalities clear, and this is probably his best performance so far.
Meanwhile, newcomer Anya Taylor Joy does a great job performing as well. She only has a few acting roles under her belt, but I’m really excited for the young talent. She gives Casey strong and raw emotion that not many young actress her age is capable of. This is especially powerful when compares her to Kevin, as they’re both broken characters finding themselves in two very different ways.
However, despite all the positives in the film, Split still suffers some typical Shyamalan tropes. The film’s final big boss, “The Beast,” is too campy to be taken seriously, and I can’t help but kind of laugh at the whole notion. Also, the film’s portrayal of DID cannot be favored by the community of patients who actually suffered such disorder. However, one Shyamalan trope that’s successful is the twist at the end. Oh my god, that twist is so good, Shyamalan is definitely the “Twist Master” again. You can read that spoiler-filled article in the link before, and be sure to know that I’m the first person to call him the Twist Master.
The Split is definitely the film that puts director M. Night Shyamalan back to the map again. The film is intense, exciting, and a really fun one to watch. It has some flaws here and there, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that this is a great film to open 2017 with. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t wait to see another Shyamalan film again.