M Night Shyamalan’s Split is a remarkable film. A psychological horror – thriller, darkly comic at times and frighteningly intense at others.
The story of three girls taken captive by a man with multiple personalities, this could have been a torture porn or exploitation film in other hands, but M Night Shymalan raises the tone and crafts something special. Layering flashbacks, subplots and different characters perfectly, Split never loses track of its multiple strands, each one getting it’s time in the light.
The unsettling opening scene sets the tone for what follows, as we see Dennis, Kevin’s bespectacled, intense personality, systemically take town three girls, whilst remaining so stoic and calm. It’s a frightening statement of intent from a writer director at the top of his game.
Anya Taylor-Joy, star of 2016’s horror masterpiece The Witch, plays Casey, a withdrawn, damaged girl, who’s deeply upsetting backstory is revealed slowly throughout the film. One of the three girls taken by Kevin, Casey is held prisoner along with Jessica Sula as Marcia and Hayley Lu as Claire, in an unknown location. Taylor-Joy is carving out a career as a modern day horror icon, next appearing in 2018’s X Men horror film The New Mutants as Magik.
James McAvoy, also formerly an X Man, gives the performances of his career so far here. He plays a man with 23 different identities, each one that were shown is completely distinct. I feel if this wasn’t a horror/thriller, we would be looking at an Oscar nomination for him. From Barry the fashion designer, Hedwig the dopey 9 yer old to Patricia, a stern British woman, McAvoy is unbelievable. Every single personality inside Kevin is fully realised and an individual character in it’s own right. McAvoy really gives a virtuoso performance here, showcasing his talents and proving himself as a top tier talent. What’s more, nothing ever comes across as silly. Even when he’s dressed as a woman, McAvoy commands your attention with his intensity, never appearing anything less than a fully developed character. It’s a stunning achievement.
The rest of the cast is great too , especially Brad William Henke’s creepy uncle in the flashback scenes and veteran actress Betty Buckley as Dr Fletcher is particularly great. Dr Fletcher’s character drops lots of the information about Kevin’s disorder. Other movies would use her character for exposition dumps and not much else, but Shymalan makes her so compelling and Buckley herself has such a warmth and heart that you can’t help but feel the fear and the compassion yourself.
This being an M Night Shymalan movie, there are two things you’d always expect. One is his gratuitous cameo, and the other is a plot full of twists and turns. Both are present here. Shyamalan’s career renaissance has been impressive thus far, Split only proving his ability to shock and thrill even more. The Sixth Sense was a huge bar to set for himself, so seeing him returning to that level is nice. It’s difficult to go into detail without spoiling a lot of what makes the movie great. I do feel that while Split’s twists are why it works, that multiple viewings would only improve the film.
Leaving spoilers out of it, both the ending and credits scene made my jaw drop. A huge talking point for sure and the recently announced sequel sounds very interesting indeed!
Split is a rare thing, a hybrid of genres and influences, ending up as strong as the sum of its parts. Rather like it’s main character.
For Fans Of:
Silence of the Lambs
10 Cloverfield Lane