Film Review: Split (2016)

Split is a true return to form for Shyamalan’

Success or Failure: M. Night Shyamalan

Split, 2016

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley

 

Kevin (James McAvoy, Atomic Blonde) is a man who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID), a condition whereby he has multiple personalities (Kevin has 23 distinct personalities within him), and for the most part it works, with each personality apparently sitting in a room politely exchanging the ‘light’, the power to control Kevin’s physical body, although the Horde, three personalities who believe in the beast, the 24th personality who has animal features and devours those deemed impure,  are banned from the light. This all changes, though, when an incident involving Kevin at work opens up the power in Hedwig, a childlike persona, who has the ability to steal the light whenever he wants, and he soon joins up with the Horde. Three young girls, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, Thoroughbreds), soon find themselves kidnapped by Dennis, a leading personality of the Horde who likes young girls to dance for him.

While The Visit is considered the turning point for Shyamalan’s career, I have to point to this film because The Visit wasn’t a great film (it just wasn’t the same disaster that his prior films had been). Split is a true return to form for Shyamalan as he used a brilliant twist ending with a great build-up to a satisfying conclusion. It is quite disappointing, though, to see so few personalities of Kevin brought to light; we see Dennis, Hedwig and Patricia (the motherly figure of the Horde) and only ever snippets or recordings of the other personalities which makes it all the more frustrating when they keep advertising that there’s at least 17 we don’t ever really interact with.

Split, 2

Night Shyamalan is also guilty of using one of his favourite stylistic decisions: the character starring directly at the camera. I’ve noticed it a lot throughout his films but it seemed like Shyamalan forced it through in almost every scene in Split. It’s quite frustrating the sheer amount it happens.

Those minor issues aside, the build-up to the final reveal and the ultimate twist are both expertly done. The final twist, specifically, deserves great praise because it genuinely surprised me (without knowing the context of it) and excited me (watching it again knowing it). It is also filled with great acting, mainly from leads McAvoy and Taylor-Joy (Jessica Sula doesn’t give a great performance and there’s nothing special from Haley Lu Richardson), although there is one really bizarre acting inclusion in this film (which my housemate annoyingly pointed out to me) in that Betty Buckley returns to a Shyamalan film, this time playing Dr. Karen Fletcher, who is researching DID and hopes to prove to a panel of their existence, but the last time Betty Buckley features in a Shyamalan film was The Happening where she was terrible, which makes it all the stranger that she returned (and it meant I couldn’t take her seriously after that after recalling her performance in The Happening . . . and then they reference hot dogs!).

Split is a very good film with a careful pacing which leads up to a satisfying conclusion (initially I feared they’d go in the same way as The Village, and I was extremely pleased they didn’t), made all the greater by the final scene with the twist (which leads into Glass, and to avoid spoilers watch Split before seeing any trailer footage of Glass). Truly Shyamalan back to his best.

 

Personal: * * * *     Acting: * * * *     Writing: * * *     Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * * * ½

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