The only thing that people love more than building up heroes is tearing them down. Director M. Night Shyamalan was destined by many in the late 90s to early 2000s to become the next Spielberg after successes with The Sixth Sense, Signs, and Unbreakable. But after a string of misses in the subsequent decade with such blockbuster flops as The Last Airbenderand After Earth, he’s suddenly lost all his credit. But there seems to be a ray of hope, after a well-received small-budgetThe Visit in 2015 and this year’s Split, Shyamalan seems to have rediscovered the tone that made him such a sensation.
Split is the story of a man named Kevin (James MacAvoy) who also happens to have 23 other different personalities within him ranging from a 9-year-old boy, to a woman, and an OCD introvert. The film starts out with this man kidnapping three girls (Anya Taylor Joy, Jessica Sula, and Haley Lu Richardson). The rest of the story deals with how the three girls look for a means of escape, while we also see how Kevin attends therapy sessions (the therapist played by Betty Buckley).
Shyamalan expertly is able to build up a creepy and tense tone that doesn’t rely on cheap jump-scares, but rather on the viewer’s imagination. And while during the first half of the film Shyamalan relies on a slow burn, it does manage to pay off, although some slow flashback sequences do frustrate a bit. Most of Shyamalan’s movies tend to build up to a big ending, and his best films have had incredible plot-twists while his latter work have been big letdowns. For SplitShyamalan seems to have calculated the ending with a cool head, and because of it, it leaves the audience incredibly satisfied.
But one of the other important aspects of the film are the leads, more specifically Kevin and his 23 different personalities; and James MacAvoy more than lives up to the incredibly high bar. MacAvoy has always been a capable actor, but he has been relegated to blockbusters or cheesy romantic roles. In Split he is able to flow through 4 completely different characters in the space of a few seconds. And as for Anya Taylor Joy, the main female protagonist, she is more than capable at leading the audience through the film’s discoveries. The rest of the supporting cast is rather weak, but thankfully they aren’t given that much screen time.
In the end Split is a very satisfying horror film, with a truly terrifying premise, brilliant tension building from Shyamalan, and some great performances from the leads. Split is another step for Shyamalan to regain the world’s confidence.