In 2015, Jason Blum (Blumhouse Productions) and M. Night Shyamalan teamed up to create a creepy, effective thriller called The Visit. The film was low budget, forcing Shyamalan and his team to buckle down on the basics of filmmaking. The end result is a fine return to form for M. Night Shyamalan, whom many film lovers dismissed years ago. We’re proud to report that Split is a terrific film, placing M. Night Shyamalan back on track to making terrific films once again.
Split is about a man called Kevin (James McAvoy), who is diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, his doctor has identified 23 different personalities. The first personality we’re exposed to be that of a menacing, kidnapper who is drawn to young girls. There is also a female character who is strict, to the point, and abrasive. We also meet a nine-year-old boy who is innocent, shy, and timid of the other personalities. McAvoy delivers an outstanding performance, going from menacing to childish at the flip of a switch. One of his characters is fashion-savvy and it’s hysterical to watch his body language change and to hear his voice change when he talks about fashion. During the Q&A, M. Night Shyamalan talked about how he wanted theater-trained actors, that’s why he was thrilled to land McAvoy for this role that gives him an opportunity to sink his teeth into some meaty scenes.
The basic framework of the film involves Dennis kidnapping three high school-aged girls and stashing them in an isolated industrial area. Their holding area isn’t made clear for a majority of the film, but the set design is superb. The audience is given a good sense of geography in this claustrophobic space. While Dennis navigates the hallways, and locked doors, we know what to expect around each corner. The area is dark, has no windows, and eliminates all hope of escape. It’s natural for the audience to cheer for the girls to escape, but the layout leaves a lingering sense of dread.
Trapping the audience and the girls in such a confined space would be an endurance test. The audience is given a breather by sitting in on psychiatrist sessions with Kevin, as well as lectures by said psychiatrist. Split also tells the story of Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). The audience learns why Casey has few friends at school, and why she’s “weird.” Casey’s side story is a dark and brave choice. Taylor-Joy is on the path to becoming a bona fide scream queen – she first landed on the radar with her tremendous performance in The Witch, as well as Morgan. Taylor-Joy is certainly up to the task when she shares the screen with McAvoy; both actors play well off each other.
Cinematographer Mike Gioulaki (also DP for the smash horror film, It Follows) does a superb job of capturing beautiful, yet eerie images. The space is tight, but that doesn’t stop Gioulakis from making this look like an effortless shoot. His style lends itself well to dreadful horror and thriller films.
Split works so well from start to finish because all involved are in this 100%. McAvoy is swinging for the fences with his performance, and the film is much better as a result. While the performance can be outrageous at times, McAvoy and Shyamalan know when to restrain the character. When Dennis is on the doctor’s couch, he’s aware of the things he needs to say to get him out of sticky situations. He’s meticulous, cunning, and downright frightening. It isn’t easy to capture an inner struggle, but McAvoy and Shyamalan nail it in this film. There will be whispers of the influences in this film such as Hitchcock or De Palma, but this is a Shyamalan film through and through.
Split is a wicked fun time at the movies. The film moves well, McAvoy delivers one of his finest performances, and the film falls completely off the hinges during the final act – this is a good thing! It’s refreshing to feel good about seeing an M. Night Shyamalan film. Split is slated for a late January 2017 release, rest easy knowing that we’ll see at least one solid thriller in an otherwise dreadful month at the movies. If you’re a fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s early work, if you’re looking for thrills and excitement, put this film on your radar.
Split is a terrific film, placing M. Night Shyamalan back on track to making terrific films once again.