Plot Summary: Casey and her two friends are kidnapped by Kevin, a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, and must attempt to outwit their captor.
It is no secret among the film community that M. Night Shyamalan has been struggling to reignite interest in his directorial efforts. Starting with the critical and commercial 2006 flop, “Lady in the Water,” Shyamalan went almost a decade without a well-received project. His bad streak ended with 2015’s “The Visit,” a decent horror flick and strong box office success. But fans were still waiting to see a film on the level of Shyamalan’s earlier work, something from the man who created the Academy Award-nominated classic “The Sixth Sense.” I am pleased to report that “Split” is that film, a directorial comeback if there ever was one.
Shyamalan’s latest effort reminds the audience of just how good he is at getting superb performances out of his cast. Anya Taylor-Joy, James McAvoy and Betty Buckley play Casey, Kevin and Dr. Fletcher (Kevin’s psychologist) respectively, and the trio give it their all. Taylor-Joy stunned critics with her remarkable work in “The Witch,” with “Split” serving as further evidence that she is definitely going places. Buckley, primarily known for her work in television, is perfectly cast as Dr. Fletcher. Doctors and professors are characters that directors frequently use for exposition dumps in horror/thriller films, and while Dr. Fletcher does have a scene that could certainly be considered an exposition dump, Buckley gives the character an appreciable amount of depth and humanity.
But let us be honest here. “Split” is McAvoy’s show and man does he deliver. While this is generally not the type of film the Academy nominates, this is absolutely an Oscar-worthy performance. McAvoy primarily portrays four of Kevin’s 23 personalities and each feels very distinct. He keeps viewers on their toes, eliciting laughter one moment and sheer terror the next. Kevin is the type of character that best exemplifies why the actor/director relationship is so important. Had McAvoy not fully trusted Shyamalan’s vision, this character could have easily devolved into absurdity. Thankfully, he completely commits himself to the role and it pays dividends.
As for the film’s twist ending (no spoilers), it did feel tacked on. While appreciated from a narrative standpoint, its placement in the film and the way in which it was conveyed felt rushed, and I wondered if Shyamalan could have found a more subtle way to include it.
In spite of this, I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed “Split.” The writing and direction feel assured, the cinematography measured and precise and the score emotionally impactful. Almost everything works. To have a film of this caliber released in January, a month commonly considered to be the dumping ground of Hollywood, was incredibly refreshing. Welcome back M. Night Shyamalan. We missed you.