M. Night Shyamalan is back with a vengeance, with Split, a psychological thriller revolving around Kevin Crumb (played by James McAvoy, otherwise known as the young Charles Xavier in the latest X-Men movies) and his 23 alter personalities.
Kevin suffers from DID, otherwise known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, but despite being treated by his compassionate therapist Dr. Fletcher (played by Betty Buckley, who appeared in classic horror Carrie) Kevin’s alternate personality captures three teenage girls, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson, The Edge of Seventeen), Marcia (Jessica Sula, Lucifer), and Casey (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy,) in order to appease an entity only known as The Beast.
Honestly, when I first entered the theater I was not expecting much, but who would? It IS an M. Night Shyamalan movie, after all. His track record hasn’t been the best, particularly with last year’s terrible The Visit. However, prepare to be pleasantly surprised, as I was, by the fantastic casting, direction, and attention to detail in Split.
James McAvoy, who has already proven his acting chops many times over, is fantastic. You will not be able to take your eyes off him as he presents several distinct multiple personalities. It is not simply a changing of voices, but a distinct change in attitude, facial expression, posture, and walking styles that embody each character. You will not have to guess which personality he is, you know just by looking at him. McAvoy’s portrayals of the characters are brilliant, each serving a purpose to drive the story.
The inspired flow between personalities is further exemplified when the Hedwig character is introduced as a nine year old boy and the comic relief of Split. Hedwig serves to give the audience a break from the constantly building tension, but his funnier moments aren’t forced or awkward since he is, technically speaking, a nine year old boy. While you will not forget the gravity of the situation that the three girls are in, Hedwig will bring a few laughs to ease the tension nonetheless.
Speaking of the three girls, Claire, Marcia, and Casey are introduced briefly in the very beginning before they are kidnapped–happily, without 30-45 minutes of fluff masquerading as backstory. As a result, we get a good idea of what the teens are like before they’re captured and even as they are contemplating the situation they find themselves in.
Casey is the only girl we actually get to know, via flashbacks to her terrible childhood. There is so much happening within the character, without much being said, which is excellent craftsmanship. Split never spoon-feeds the audience, but naturally allows us to come to the logical conclusions ourselves.
Another such example is Dr. Fletcher’s introduction. Her first scene is in her office and if you do not pick up on the fact she is a psychiatrist, her interactions with Kevin (or rather Barry) give the viewer as much information as they need. Split does not go out of its way to explain trivial details or, conversely, make things so vague you have to keep guessing. The film provides you with enough evidence through set design, smart dialogue, and character interaction to give you everything you need to know about the situation.
Overall, this is a pretty kick ass movie that, while arguably not necessarily a full-on horror film, is a well-crafted psychological thriller that will leave you on the edge of our seat (if you’ll pardon the cliché).
The only real issue is the ending. While the majority of Split is hard-hitting from the outset, the ending is kind of like letting the air out a balloon. I was slightly disappointed, but it does not change how much I enjoyed the other 95% of it.
Further, if this is representative of Shyamalan’s upcoming work, than I am more hopeful for the future of what he can make for the horror genre. This story is creative, innovative, and enrapturing enough to keep you guessing. Furthermore, the character choices are smart, the attention to detail stunning, and you will be seriously entertained throughout.
Catch Split in theaters nationwide from
Friday, January 20, 2017
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): M. Night Shyamalan
Writer(s): M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson
Studio/ Production Co: Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions
Release date: January 20th, 2016
Length: 117 min