Shyamalan is back. That was the only thing running through my mind as I left the theater. It’s rare for me to be giddy and visibly excited about the ending of a movie (even if I love it), but Split accomplished that.
I’ve followed Shyamalan through most of his career. I saw his best films (Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs), and i’ve seen his worst films (The Last Airbender, The Happening, After Earth). I also saw the glimmer of hope that he could one day come back and give us great films again when I saw The Visit. I’m glad to say that through all of the ups and downs, it’s safe to say that M. Night still has some gas left in the tank.
Split follows the story of 3 girls who get kidnapped by a man named Kevin (portrayed by James McAvoy), who suffers from dissociative identity disorder(DID). There are currently 23 different personalities that dwell inside of Kevin, and as the movie progresses we get to know 9 of them. They each have distinct mannerisms, accents, quirks, and beliefs.
One of the most important parts of this film is the portrayal of Kevin. Having to switch back and forth between these completely different characters can easily come across as cartoonish and unbelievable. Luckily for us, McAvoy demonstrates exactly how good of an actor he is. He masterfully glides between these personalities and relishes in every moment of it. It’s clear he put everything into this role because he brought a powerful performance.
We also have our female lead, Casey, who is played by Anya Taylor-Joy. I was curious to see where her career would go after how great she was in The Witch, and she did not disappoint. She gives another great performance here. She also demonstrates fantastic chemistry with McAvoy no matter which personality he is currently playing. My favorite interactions between them definitely come when McAvoy is playing Hedwig, who is a 9 year old boy.
Betty Buckley plays Dr. Fletcher, who is Kevin’s therapist. Her character is interesting because she’s our look into the science of DID. The movie shows how a lot of the scientific world doesn’t believe DID is an actual thing, while she is someone who does believe and is fascinated by it. Her interactions with Kevin are amazing at getting insight on the psychology of specific personalities. The only bad thing about the character is how exposition heavy she is. A lot of the information she tells us is necessary for the narrative, but at times it’s a bit much.
The other 2 girls kidnapped are Claire (portrayed by Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (portrayed by Jessica Sula). These girls were not great characters, but their purpose here is justified. They work as your typical kidnap victims that make bad decisions and get you frustrated. This is intriguing when those characters are used to juxtapose Casey’s character, who handles the situation very different from the other girls. The acting itself from these 2 isn’t that great either. Haley Lu Richardson is a bit over the top while delivering her lines. That was pretty disappointing because I liked her in The Edge of Seventeen and was hoping she would follow that up with a good performance here. Jessica Sula is just plain awful in this movie. I couldn’t get into anything she was doing and every time she had any type of dialogue I wanted them to switch back to one of the leads. Luckily, neither of these supporting characters say or do much, so it doesn’t bog down the film.
Shyamalan cooked up a pretty interesting narrative here. It’s deliberately slow like a lot of his older movies. This allows him to create an unnerving feeling through dialogue and character expressions. He takes his time to unravel this narrative that has a lot of cool twists and turns waiting at every corner. There is a point where Shyamalan really takes a big risk with a big reveal. I was on board with it, but I can see a lot of people possibly jumping off the movie at that point. Shyamalan challenges the audience to really experience the entire movie before making assumptions on whether a specific plot point is good or not. The answers do come, so be patient and you’ll be rewarded in a big way.
The directing in the movie is just great. There are some amazing shots in the movie that add to the environment with subtlety. There are long shots following characters through the narrow hallway that were beautiful. There are several quick shots of empty space that can really creep you out. It’s amazing what they were able to do with a $5 million budget.
The music plays a pretty big part here. Unlike his last movie, The Visit, this movie actually has a score. It works really well at adding to the tension of the film. There’s also one moment in particular. The music hits and it made me sit up because I wasn’t sure if what I was hearing was correct.
We also have the very end of the movie with the last big reveal. As bad as I would love to talk about the specifics of it, I refuse to throw out spoilers. The last shot gives additional context to everything you’ve seen in the movie. It makes the audience see the events in a different way. It got me to smile so hard that it hurt.
Overall, Split is a wonderful psychological thriller and a return a form for M. Night Shyamalan. There are excellent performances from James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy that propel this movie to the finish line. The story is creative and the directing is excellent. The last shot absolutely blew my mind. The only real negatives I can see with the movie are the portrayal of the supporting girls, and how exposition heavy Dr. Fletcher can get at times. Despite that, I think this is Shyamalan’s third best movie behind Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. I definitely recommend you go out and watch this movie.
Split gets a 90/100