Acclaimed director M. Night Shyamalan returns to the spotlight with a new film that, once again, won’t help you sleep at night. After starting off with his smash debut, 1999’s The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has seemingly lost his ability to create crowd-pleasers that draw praise from the media. However, Shyamalan’s name was not the only thing that drew me to his new film. I ended up seeing the highly anticipated horror/thriller Split on a Sunday afternoon mainly to see James McAvoy (Yes, he was the most recent Professor Xavier in the X-Men franchise). I was curious to see how this new psychotic character would play out in the story line, having seen the wonderfully thrilling trailer.
The heart of the movie covers a man that goes by Kevin, Hedwig, Dennis, Barry and a few other names, to go along with the twenty three personalities that McAvoy’s character takes on. Kevin has developed these different personalities as a result of his mental disorder, dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder. Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), and Marcia (Jessica Sula) are kidnapped and held under lock and key in a windowless room. Each day they meet some new, wild, comical, and outright frightening personalities that Kevin possesses. The girls try escaping Kevin’s lonely, mysterious, and seemingly endless fortress. It is unclear why the girls have been taken, but nonetheless, the lovable Hedwig comforts the frightened girls as to who is coming: “He’s done awful things to people and he’ll do awful things to you.”
Shyamalan uses an interesting cinematic technique throughout scenes by holding shots on characters and their faces for extended periods of time. This technique makes viewers uneasy and adds drama and suspense to plain scenes. Shyamalan seems to accomplish his goal of keeping viewers, like myself, uncomfortable throughout the movie.
The feature that really brings this movie to life is McAvoy’s performance. Christopher Orr, in the The Atlantic, writes that “In each of his ‘characters’ McAvoy inhabits, he finds sparks of charm and wit–elements that have all too often been lacking in Shyamalan’s oeuvre.” He effortlessly makes each personality realistic, humorous, and psychotic, while leaving the audience begging for just one more minute with them. I really enjoyed that the film did not follow the typical kidnapping and attempted escape format. Shyamalan provides some backstory and weaves in the crucial character, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) — Kevin’s longtime psychologist. Dr. Fletcher provides us with a medical/scientific perspective of Kevin’s mental disorder.
Overall, I see this film as more of a dramatic thriller, with scary scenes, rather than a horror movie. Split is a great start for 2017 films and may leave friends discussing it for days to come. However, I do advise that you leave your younger sibling at home. I recommend Split to people who aren’t fans of horror films, and for audiences of previous Shyamalan pieces. Remember, Split was written, directed, and produced by M. Night Shyamalan, so be prepared for plot twists. I rate Split a solid 8.7/10 and an A+ for a Friday night date.