In 2017, I am writing a review for the second M. Night Shyamalan movie in a row that I enjoyed. Now how’s that for a twist? There’s no getting around it: Split, starring James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy is dark, disturbing, and very tense.
Here’s another twist – there isn’t really that much of a twist ending. Sure, there are surprises abound, but there’s nothing in this film that feels like Shyamalan is planning a quick and cheap exit at the last moment. Everything in Split seems to have a logical explanation; as logical as a horror movie that is rooted in fantasy could be, that is.
McAvoy plays a man with 23 distinct personalities. His 24th one, the Beast, is supposedly a hulking creature that is more than a man. Each of his personalities is totally unique, down to altered genetic structure. One has diabetes when another is perfectly healthy. One is a weak nine-year-old boy with a lisp. Another is a domineering woman with severe anger urges. Each of them lives in the same body, and only one can come into the light at a time. They all wait in fear of the beast.
Early on, McAvoy’s conflicted character (who’s birth name is Kevin) kidnaps a group of three young women and brings them to an undisclosed basement location. The three of them – Taylor-Joy, Jessica Sula, and Haley Lu Richardson – must figure out a way to escape before the Beast comes into play.
Split plays with perspective and camerawork effectively, giving the film a vibe that the director is finally fully invested and inspired by his project after many long years. It is more than just a great movie; it’s a true comeback if I’ve ever seen one. Yes, The Visit was good, but it does not have the same excited tone as Split. Shyamalan comes off as a filmmaker who is making a big-budget debut after years of being told “no” yet persevering. Only, that’s not the case.
McAvoy and Taylor-Joy both give powerhouse performances here, even though most of McAvoy can’t exactly nail the accent he is going for. Is he from Boston? Is he from Brooklyn? It doesn’t matter; what matters is that it’s distinct. We don’t meet all of Kevin’s personalities. That would be exhausting and unnecessary. Instead, we only meet a few and get to really know them as if they are totally different characters – in other words, McAvoy’s performance succeeds.
Anya Taylor-Joy, with her brooding personality and her dark looks, is quickly making a name for herself in the horror world. Her performance in The Witch let the world know that there was a new rising force on the scene, and Split solidifies that. Time will tell how diverse she can be as an actress, but for now, I am optimistic.
This is as much Taylor-Joy’s film as it is McAvoy’s, and the two face off in a tense battle that culminates in something unexpected and tragic. Fans of his 2000 film Unbreakable are in for a surprise that will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face; could Shyamalan be creating his own shared universe of villains? He’s certainly got the strength as a writer and director to do it – when he’s sufficiently inspired, that is.
WIll this trend continue for Shyamalan? I certainly hope so. He’s currently writing the script for Split’s sequel. If all goes well, we will never have to bring up After Earth again.