M. Night Shyamalan gave us ‘The Sixth Sense’, and then followed it up with a few average movies, before sinking to rock bottom with ‘Last Airbender’ and ‘After Earth’. He has been looking to redeem himself for quite a while now and with the sort of gripping theme that Split has, it seems like it might work for him this time. So does it? Well, sort of.
23 personalities live in the body of one person, each of them interacting and competing with each other to gain hold of his body. He kidnaps three girls; one of whom is smart enough to figure out what’s going on with him, and tries to use some of his more pliable personalities to help them escape.
Shyamalan manages to grasp your attention for two whole hours, without ever making it feel like a drag.Along with his truly gripping storytelling, the movie is peppered with scenes that are so shocking that they send a chill down your spine. Shocking not because of the plot taking unexpected turns, but because of the way they are portrayed. This is an intense story, that largely extrapolates from actual research on multiple-personality disorders and its relationship with child abuse, and for the most part, these subjects and their chilling execution ground it in reality. But the biggest strength of the movie is its actors, especially the two leads. Anya Taylor-Joy as one of the girls held captive is superb, conveying most of her emotions without speech, impressively underplaying her character to build more suspense about her mysterious past. James McAvoy is exceptional playing a whole gamut of characters in one role, from a nine year old kid to an intimidating woman, and managing to switch between them with such ease, and making sure you can feel his pain, his confusion and his anger. This is certainly one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time.
After the first half, the movie starts migrating to a voodoo beast horror territory, springing far away from its more realistic psychological thriller tone. This troubled me quite a bit, since it was turning out to be such a great movie up until this point. Shyamalan’s signature move is to end his movies with a shocking reveal that none of us saw coming. There is a solid twist in Split, but its no ‘The Sixth Sense’ reveal, and the story continues for a while even after the twist (so its technically not the climax), and it doesn’t give you the satisfaction or the jolt that you were hoping for. There is also an epilogue that may interest some Shyamalan fans, who still remember his movies from the 2000s. For me, it felt redundant.
As far as psycho thrillers go, Split is a solid movie with some great acting and direction, and it definitely gives you the bang for your buck. However, I strongly feel that it could have been so much more from a plot perspective, had it stuck with its realistic roots and not ventured into semi-fantasy. I will rate it 7.5/10.