Review: There’s No Division Over Shyamalan’s Comeback in ‘Split’

"Split" (2017) - Movie Review

‘Split’ Proves ‘The Visit’ Wasn’t Just Luck for Shyamalan

Back in the early 2000’s, M. Night Shyamalan was his own brand of cerebral twists and turns. With a string of hits such as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs under his belt, we might as well have witnessed one of this generation’s great directors. Then the abysmal failures started to trickle in. Can we just block out the trifecta of terror – The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth? Well, with his latest thriller, Split, the moment couldn’t be any more opportune.

Shyamalan is back to his old tricks and gladly so in Split. From the get-go, there is this sense of urgency. Within the first five minutes or so, our three female teen leads are kidnapped in broad daylight by a mysterious man (James McAvoy). The girls wake up later on in a dismal, underground lair, held captive by McAvoy. But Shyamalan leaves more clues that this isn’t your ordinary kidnapping, especially when the captor is inhabited by 23 different personalities.

For Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), they have no idea what they’re in store for with this grab bag of a psycho looming over them. One moment, he’s a nine-year-old boy named Hedwig and the next he’s a violent individual named Dennis, who enjoys watching young girls dance naked. Other personalities surface, including a fashionista as well as a domineering female who supposedly keeps Dennis in check. Under these circumstances, their situation grows more and more dire.

Split is what audiences have been wanting out of Shyamalan for nearly 15 years. And despite the mishaps along the road, Split was well-worth the wait. Shyamalan has been toying around with these characters for years now. In the meantime, we’ve had to endure disaster after disaster.

SEE ALSO: Review: Split is M. Night Shyamalan’s Best Work in 15 Years

Regardless, Shyamalan has found a gem in James McAvoy, who gives one of the best performances of his career. It’s rather peculiar putting Split alongside The Last King of Scotland and Atonement. Still McAvoy shows an insane amount of range, ultimately playing all these different characters. From minute mannerisms to more distinctive features, this is a performance like no other. If Split was released late in 2016, McAvoy may even have been a dark horse for in the acting category. Creepy, sensual, innocent are just a few words to describe to what reaches McAvoy will go to bring this multi-faceted character to life. Granted, not all 23 personalities are fully fleshed out (mainly six or so), but it’s still an accomplishment. The worst of the bunch is number 24, known as the Beast, playing more on the fantastical elements in Split.

Anya Taylor-Joy also proves to be a fine addition as well. After cozying up with devil goat Black Phillip in last year’s The Witch, she nails the odd and awkward persona, which is a fine contrast to the other two girls. Without a doubt, we’re watching the next up-and-comer skyrocket to the stars. Her character is resourceful and knows when to play her cards just right to escape, just like Mary Elizabeth Winstead in last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane. Coincidentally enough, another claustrophobic kidnapping film.

Split is well-crafted and suspenseful for its majority of it run time, leaving audiences satisfied after years of being disappointed. When McAvoy dons “the Beast” persona, the climax treads on a few minor silly beats. But everything leading up to that point is nail-biting, on your seat thrills that we come to expect from Shyamalan.

Props to It Follows cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis, for depicting such a creepy, claustrophobic atmosphere. That, combined with West Dylan Thordson’s haunting score round out a thrilling spectacle that’s rare to come across so early in the year.

2015’s The Visit set M. Night Shyamalan back on the right path, but it’s clearly Split that makes us wanting more from the director. It’s like we’ve gone back in time to 1999.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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