Director M. Night Shyamalan has hit his stride since returning to the suspenseful horror he’s been known for since his debut.
Following his fairly well received tale of the horror of grandparents with “The Visit,” writer-director Shyamalan shines with “Split,” the story of a man dealing with 23 unique personalities living inside his mind.
“Split” opens at Claire Benoit’s (Haley Lu Richardson) birthday, which has been attended by many of her classmates including Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy). Since Casey was unable to reach her uncle, the three girls leave to be driven home by Claire’s father. Before entering the car, her father is knocked unconscious and Kevin (James McAvoy) enters the vehicle, knocking out the three girls.
The girls awake in a strange room and Dennis, one of Kevin’s personalities, explains they are there for a very special purpose. Over the course of the following days and through a series of flashbacks it becomes clear that Casey is more equipped to handle this situation, but her lack of friendship with the other two girls only gets them into trouble. As days pass the girls are introduced to other personalities such as Patricia, a caring female persona and Hedwig, a young boy who has the ability to take control of Kevin any time he wishes.
During this time we also see the Barry personality meet with his psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who believes that Barry is no longer the leading personality. She instead believes Dennis has taken control. She explains that Dennis believes in a 24th personality called the beast who needs to feed on innocent lives. It now becomes clear that if a 24th personality exists the girls are in grave danger and if not, will Dennis ever let them go?
It is impossible to talk about this movie and not talk about how outstanding McAvoy is as all of Kevin’s personalities. McAvoy has the daunting task of bringing these characters to life and more impressive still is that they don’t feel like variations of the same person, but rather individuals inhabiting the same body. While the personalities of Patricia and Dennis are cold and calculated, they never feel cheesy or overdone. McAvoy brings this incredible sense of gullibility to Hedwig that is quite intentional and at any moment Hedwig could look away and be the stronger and more ruthless Dennis.
As mentioned before, M. Night Shyamalan has a checkered past when it comes to writing and directing hits, creating standouts like “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable,” but also flops like “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth.” Luckily for Shyamalan, “Split” feels as though he has definitively refound his voice. “Split” delivers most of its suspense in direction, and fans of Shyamalan that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The way this movie makes you feel is possibly its best trait. A constant sense of unknowing looms over the audience. It’s powerful, and it makes you want to keep watching.
Unfortunately for this movie, the writing doesn’t hold up as well, and I believe the issue is that Shyamalan likes to leave clues so once the credits roll you can rewatch and see what was right in front of you. Obviously this put him on the map with “The Sixth Sense,” and I think he is obsessed with recapturing that. While I believe it hurt “The Visit” more, I still felt it present in “Split.”
If you have ever seen “The Sixth Sense” or “Unbreakable” and enjoyed them, I highly recommend seeing “Split.” It’s the perfect type of thriller to see on a Friday night and better yet it takes place mostly around Drexel’s campus. While it may not have audiences talking about Bruce Willis for weeks after, it is a well directed, impeccably acted thriller just right for the post-holiday season.