Night Shyamalan did not fully reclaim his claims to the crown, but made a significant step to achieve this goal with Split.
Three girls are abducted from a parking lot. One of them – Casey (Anya Taylor Joy) – is a traumatized introvert, whilst two other girls are spoiled brats. The man behind this deed is Kevin (James McAvoy), who suffers from a complex dissociative identity disorder. The captured girls try to escape as Kevin transforms into different personalities, preparing for the arrival of the mysterious Beast.
Night Shyamalan was once considered the “Alfred Hitchcock of our times”. “The Sixth Sense”, “The Unbreakable” or even the less cult-classic “The Village” – those films proved that the Indian director had an incredibly bright future ahead. Unfortunately, the famous twists apparently became his own dreadful misery. “The Happening” was a disaster, whilst “The Last Airbender” should never be mentioned just like Voldemort’s name.
Hardly could we predict that Shyamalan would redeem himself. However, although it kicked off with “The Visit”, “Split” is his comeback. Wicked, suspenseful, but most importantly – meticulously directed.
It is so due to two main pillars: James McAvoy and Anya Taylor Joy.
The Scottish actor does an incredible job in “Split”. His over-the-top performance is stunning, with a lot creativity and on-point grotesque. Kevin a.k.a many-identities guy is not only utterly strange – some of his “incarnations” are gruesome, some are disturbing and some incredibly appalling. McAvoy steals the show from the first scene, but credits belongs to Taylor Joy too. Her “vacant staring” (love this punchline from “Honest Trailers”) is sometimes a bit kitschy, but her overall performance does the justice to the film. She is the to-be-slaughtered lamb, that – even considering her background – looks fragile as a butterfly when met with Kevin’s palpable mental derailment.
Even though acting is undoubtedly the best part of Shyamalan’s film, a pleasant surprise comes from the soundtrack as well. West Dylan Thordson’s score is as haunting as Kevin’s mind. It grasps the essence of most of the scenes – when McAvoy is in his elements, Thordson remains a shadow behind the actor. Yet two particular scenes, accompanied by tracks “Meeting The Others” and “Rejoice”, are greatly enriched by the powerful soundtrack – especially the build-up in “Meeting The Others” is truly overwhelming. In the rest of the film, the music remains pulsating somewhere around, hanging heavily in the air as the atmosphere becomes incredibly dense.
Even if there is a lot to praise in Shyamalan’s film, “Split” is far from perfection. It promises a lot – the creepy atmosphere reminds the tension from “10 Cloverfield Lane”, whilst McAvoy worsening condition calls to mind “The Red Dragon” or even Hannibal Lecter himself. Yet, the startling beginning loses its pace somewhere on the way. Apparently, Shyamalan never ceases to include genre clichés, which in this case, refer mainly to the abducted girls. Although they try to convince the audience they are not the soon-to-be-butchered meat, eventually it is hard to believe that something different is stored for them.
The plot is chaotic sometimes as well – to say the least. Although we do not get to know all the 23 identities, it gets… crowded. This does not help Shyamalan to keep the film on the right track the entire length. He jumps from one identity to another, builds the mystery around The Beast, but at the same time, paradoxically doesn’t move the plot too much. A way out – a decent one at least – is making the audience acquainted with Casey by showing her disturbing past. This creates a credible proportion – the more malefic McAvoy becomes, the more we feel sorry for Casey. It is a partial redemption.
To sum up, “Split” is just a enjoyable thriller. Even though Shyamalan is still kind of uncouth (and he will probably remain so), this film is definitely far above his average. And I feel obliged to rate it higher due to the absolutely mindblowing ending – if there is anyone to claim the crown in jaw-dropping twists, there is only one man to fill in the spot.
Split (2016 but some say 2017)
Dir. M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor Joy and Hedwig <3
Hate Grade: 2.5/10