Reviews: a man with a lot of personality: Split
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan,
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, James McAvoy, Hayley Lu Richardson, Kim Director, Jessica Sula
The new film from M. Night Shyamalan arrives, starring James McAvoy and Anna Taylor-Joy (who essayed such a remarkable performance in The Witch). When a man with twenty-three personalities kidnaps three girls with the hope of unleashing the twenty-fourth personality, he must try to keep his psychiatrist off his scent, which isn’t easy, when only three of the twenty three people in his mind want this kept secret. Spirited teen Kasey (Taylor-Joy) seems to be the best-equipped of the three young women in working out how to survive the horror and it’s revealed why as we travel along this complex thriller.
I was a huge fan of the films of M. Night Shyamalan for his first few movies. The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs were three solid films with which the writer/director established his ability to master the twisty turn at the end (that became more of a crutch than a calling card in his later career.) To this day I believe that Unbreakable is the best true Superhero movie that has been made. There I said it, come at me bro! After Signs we had The Village and then The Lady in the Water, which both had great casts, fantastical scripts, and yet didn’t have the same spark that the first three films managed to produce. It was The Happening where everything, for me went too sour to taste, too much money was being thrown at the director and it all disappeared. The Last Airbender and After Earth just fell flat for me, and that was it, my expectations for his future movies went from a childish excitement to a wet afternoon on a beach feeling.
Then last year we got The Visit, which was far from perfect, and yet somehow felt like M. Night was getting his groove back; lower budget than some of his other films and yet more like the man of old. That wet afternoon on a beach started to have clear spells. When the trailer for Split popped up, and I only watch one trailer per film, it’s hard to avoid one trailer but the rest you go on media blackout, you can call me childish again, but damn it I got excited.
Split is not perfect and does not claim to be. But James McAvoy plays many of the different twenty-three personalities inside Kevin’s brain with ease, showing true mastery of his craft. There is a slight change to his facial expressions that you start to notice when he changes between the different characters. When he kidnaps the three girls it’s a frightening experience for the viewer, and as his plan comes to fruition you start to wonder where this film is going. It’s an uneasy watch; two of the girls are quite annoying, but Anna Taylor-Joy (The Witch, reviewed here, and Morgan, reviewed here), has just been amazing to watch this year. Her character is more relaxed than the other two, and through flashbacks we learn why she is how she is. The psychology behind the disorder that Kevin suffers from is explored by a very down to earth performance of Kevin’s psychiatrist, played by Betty Buckley. The emergence of this final personality inside of Kevin is what we’re waiting for, the girls’ survival seems to feel like a done deal, and you suspect that the plucky teen played by Anna Taylor-Joy, will have her Sarah Connor/Ripley moment, but McAvoy’s performance is outstanding enough to play through all the flaws of the film.
It’s an M. Night film so I won’t go into the plot and finale, it should be an experience for you, and fans of his first films will get a huge kick out of the ending, – just stay for a few moments after the credits roll. It seems that the lower budget suits him and when he can get the performance that he does from McAvoy, well you know the man has talent. Split explores the fractured mind of one individual and the psychological effects of tortured childhoods showing that there is a common ground for both Kevin and Kasey. This for me was hugely enjoyable and if you know his first three films and enjoyed them it should be for you too. The whole film rests with James McAvoy and probably the performance of his career to date, it’s a masterclass in acting, and before you ask there is the cameo that we’ve all come to expect. I’m starting to have that childish expectation for M. Night films.