Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley
Synopsis: Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, and must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.
Split is the new M. Night Shyamalan film which is currently in theaters worldwide. So far, it has done really well in the box office, and some are saying is a “return to form” for Shyamalan. Of course, Shyamalan is most known for being the guy who wrote and directed The Sixth Sense, one of the best films of the 90s, and arguably one of the best psychological thrillers in the history of cinema. AFI actually put in on their last list of the “100 greatest American films” at the #89 spot. There’s no denying the impact the film brought to American cinema and how it has changed the thriller genre. Shyamalan backed up that with two other underrated, well-crafted gems in Unbreakable and Signs. Shyamalan was riding high in the late 90s and early 00s, and at a such young age, most people looked at him as the next master visionary director that will define cinema for decades. Some people even labeled him as the next Steven Spielberg:
However, things started to go downhill for the young director. Some say it started with his 2004 film The Village. In some regards the film was very good and shot extremely well. However, with the ending, it was starting to show that Shyamalan wasn’t trying new things and really starting to become a parody of himself. Whenever someone saw a Shyamalan film they expected there to be some big twist that would knock your socks off and bring everything together. In The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable it worked, but in The Village and Lady in the Water, not so much. He followed those two films up with three, “not just bad, but awful” films in The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. If you read or watch any “worst films of the 2000s” lists, than you should see one of those three films on there. In some cases all three! Shyamalan became a joke, and was not taken seriously anymore as a director. With those being big bombs at the box office, they could have easily diminished his career. It was clear to Shyamalan that it was time to hit the restart button on his career. In 2015 he released a smaller horror film called The Visit, which gained mix reviews from critics, but was not nearly as bad as his previous three or four films. Even though it wasn’t his best film, it was clear that he was taken his material more seriously and really wanted to make a new name out of himself once more. So, here in 2017 we have his latest film called Split. Immediately when the trailer was released, a lot of people were really intrigued by the film. Most of this has to do with the performance by James McAvoy. He plays a man who has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and has kidnapped three young girls. It was certainly a memorable trailer and really intrigued a lot of people, which has resulted in high box-office numbers so far. It is clear that people understand the potential Shyamalan still has, and what he can bring to the table. And I can officially say that he has created another memorable film that is in shades a “return to form” for the director.
I won’t say that the film in its entirety is a “return to form,” but while watching the film, I was reminded of what Shyamalan can bring to the table, and the intensity he can unleash with his story. There are a lot of things that had to come together to make this film work, and I think for the most part it did. First of all, I have to first mention the performance by James McAvoy. He really carries the entire film on his back. Without his dynamite performance, this film would be a train wreck. Whenever he pops into the screen, you just know that something epic and memorable is bound to happen. His character, Dennis, is very interesting and unique, and with the 23 different personalities, most people will be intrigued at what personality he will bring to viewers. Some are humorous, others creepy, and some just down right insane. McAvoy really commits to the role and loses himself in the character. I do not see James McAvoy in this film, just his character. As far as the supporting cast goes, most of the characters aren’t that memorable. The only ones that really stand out are one of the three girls who gets kidnapped, named Casey, and Dennis’ doctor named Karen Fletcher. Casey gets a lot more screen time, and even flashbacks that explain her character a lot more. She is very different from the other two girls, who are for the most part just victims in the film, and the actress Anya Taylor-Joy really shines. As far as Karen Fletcher goes, I was a little disappointed in her character. A lot of her scenes involve just explaining to the audience what the disease is and why it is important. But her relationship with Dennis was interesting and brought a new dynamic to McAvoy’s character. Also the score and the sound editing for the film is very good and adds another layer to the film that makes it more tense and scary. This is one of Shyamalan’s most terrifying films, but it is one that builds and builds. By the end of the film, because of the intense final act, it will leave your heart beating and hands shaking.
Overall, I was generally pleased with Split, and was excited to see that Shyamlan still has some gas left in the tank. He is the definition of a “hit or miss” director, but I would say Split is one of his hits. I would probably put it in fourth or fifth place out of his entire filmography. Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense are all higher-quality films with better stories and characters, and The Village is right in that same camp. With the being said, Split is very tense (especially in the last act), has a great musical score, and offers a fantastic lead performance from McAvoy. The writing in this film is a little below average, especially the diagluge, but this is an original story that offers plenty of twists and turns. Lastly I would like to mention one last scene in the film that is a BIG twist and will shock some people. Without getting to any spoilers, I will say that the very last scene will satisfy a lot of people and will really please those people that understand what Shyamalan is doing. However, for a lot of others it may confuse them and might not be as satisfying. Shyamlan does something very bold and surprising that I certainly did not expect and is very daring, but unfortunately it will just leave a lot of people confused. This is unfortunately a flaw in the film for me, and something that I have to down-grade him on, even though I do respect the guts that he had to that such thing. Anyways, I think anyone who is a fan of his early work should go check out this film. Also anyone who is a big fan of psychological thrillers should check it out, but know it is probably an average thriller and nothing to be amazed by. But it should surprise a lot of people and have them talking for weeks. I look forward to what else Shyamalan releases in the future. My grade for this film is: