By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
After a bit of a dry spell of uncompelling work, M. Night Shyamalan made a bit of a comeback with his horror-thriller The Visit in 2015, a film that kept the production simple and the story elemental, intriguing, and ultimately frightening. Shymalan is back with another great thriller called Split. This film sticks with a similar formula of a simple production and definitely focuses on character development, delivering thrills and chills, and features a truly extraordinary, multifaceted performance by lead actor James McAvoy. Both The Visit and Split were produced by Jason Blum, the founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions, a company best known for their successful horror films. These collaborations between Shyamalan and Blum have indicated that these two filmmakers were meant to work together and if enough audiences can get on board with their latest release, I have a feeling these two will make another one sooner or later.
McAvoy stars as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, and a pretty remarkable case at that. Kevin’s illness has manifested 23 different personalities that “share the light” or take control of Kevin at various times. Two dominant personalities have driven Kevin to abduct three teenage girls from a restaurant parking lot, following a birthday party. Kevin quickly sedates and restrains Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula) and holds them prisoner in what seems like an underground bunker of a home. One of Kevin’s more sensible personalities reaches out to Kevin’s psychologist Dr. Fletcher and is obviously trying to help the girls before things get even uglier.
Shyamalan, who wrote and directed the film, has made a genuinely fascinating, entertaining, thrilling and frightening tale with Split. Much like his previous great films The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs, Split plays out like an extended episode of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone with some incredible and bizarre moments and some wicked surprises. On the writing end, Shyamalan does an exceptional job developing his lead characters, but doesn’t bog it down too much with unnecessary exposition.
The film isn’t quite as taut or intense as The Visit and does have a few moments that aren’t as suspenseful as they should’ve been. Nevertheless, it really is an impressive feat to develop a character with so many dynamically different personalities and James McAvoy proves himself to be the actor up for the challenge. His performance or performances of the multiple personalities could easily be used in acting classes as an example of some undeniably amazing work. McAvoy and Shyamalan make his performances look effortless as he switches among the various nuances, traits, vocalizations, and accents of these different characters.
The film also features some excellent work by Betty Buckley, who offers a sublime performance as Dr. Karen Fletcher, Kevin’s psychologist who not only wants to learn from this remarkable case, but also wishes to help Kevin lead a peaceful and productive life. Anya Taylor-Joy, whose performances in both The Witch and Morgan impressed me last year, does not disappoint whatsoever with a subtle, but powerful performance as Casey. Actresses Haley Lu Richardson and Marcia also deliver solid turns as Casey’s classmates and co-captives Claire and Marcia. However, as one can probably already tell, the main reason to see this movie is the amazing acting by James McAvoy.
Nevertheless, M. Night Shyamalan has succeeded in making another great thriller with Split. I truly believe that both The Visit and this movie should be held in the same high regards as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. And just like these older films, Split promises and delivers thrills, frights and surprises. Speaking of surprises, I strongly suggest that everyone, who watches this film, stick around after the end credits roll.