Split is the new psychological thriller directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan and starring James McAvoy, Betsy Buckley, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jessica Sula and Haley Lu Richardson.
Shyamalan has had a long string of hit and miss films. Most everyone remembers The Sixth Sense, a film that surprised almost everyone who saw it with its suspensful buildup and famous twist ending that set the stage for much of Shyamalan’s future efforts. Opinions vary as to the quality or likability of many of his films. Some of them have been truly inspired works such as Signs or Unbreakable while others such as Lady in the Water, The Happening and The Last Airbender were so bad that they earned their Golden Raspberry awards. With Split, though, I have to say that this may well be the best film Shyamalan has made in his entire career.
There’s a lot to say about this, so let me start with the main subject matter of the film. I will not be throwing out any spoilers, but it’s been clear in every commercial and the film’s marketing campaign that the title of Split comes from the fact that the central character, Kevin “Wendell” Crumb, played by James McAvoy, suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder, more commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder or split personalities. He has 23 different people living within him and they are all dominated and influenced by a psychotic creature which is alluded to but not revealed until well into the third act. I was curious while watching the film how much of the story was based on factual data about this condition so I looked it up after and found out that Shyamalan actually did do his research and there’s a lot more to know about this condition than I had previously suspected. While he definitely takes this into a cinematic fantasy, the truth is that there is a lot more for us to learn about how this DID not only affects a person’s behavior but also their physiology. There are cases on record of people with this condition having different physical allergies when they switch from one personality to another. According to Dr. Simone Reinders, a neuroscientist studying DID at King’s College London, she said “With some of my patients, I asked two identity states to listen to a text, and my research has shown that in one state, the blood flow in the brain is different to the other identity state in response to this text. So it is true that the neurobiology is dependent on the identity state that the patient is in.” I also found out that in some cases, patients have even been known to need glasses or change what hand they use to write when switching from one personality to another. So some of the things you may hear in this movie may not be so far-fetched after all.
In terms of film making, Split is very tight, extremely well shot and smartly edited. For me, the acting and framing was somewhat reminiscent of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, with a lot of facial closeups and the actors seeming to talk directly to the audience, which honestly raises the emotional involvement by a factor of 10. Many of Shyamalan’s earlier films had interesting and good storylines but were unbearably slow in playing out but not this one. With Split, it’s like there is not one wasted shot, not one scene that shouldn’t be there but at the same time no overlong lingering or deadspace. In fact, I can’t recall a film I’ve seen recently that was crafted as well as this one in terms of the director and editing team really paying attention to putting together the puzzle pieces they shot. Without question, Shyamalan’s filmography has been influenced by Hitchcock in many ways but in no earlier film has he come as close to capturing the tone and feeling of a Hitchcock film, at least not since The Sixth Sense.
There are no bad or sketchy or half-rate performances in this movie – everyone brought their A-game, but there is no way to talk about this film without talking about James McAvoy. It’s been pretty obvious to everyone for a long time that the guy can act, but frankly his creation of each separate personality and the subtlties he displays in shifting from one personality to the next to the next are amazing, especially during moments where there are multiple personalities struggling to come to the surface. There’s other things I’d like to comment on about his performance but I can’t without giving you spoilers so all I can tell you is that I haven’t seen an actor this good doing something this complicated in quite a while.
I also want to say something about the three teens who are kidnapped by Kevin. All of them are good but the main focus is on Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, Casey Cook. Anya was the center point of the very disappointing “horror movie” The Witch last year and came out as really about the only good thing about it. In Split, her portrayal is noteworthy for how understated it is, how she really does so much with so little. A lot of her actions and persona are mysterious at the beginning of Split, but as the film plays out everything about her becomes abundantly clear and the power of her performance becomes even more apparent.
I am giving this movie a rating of Sheer Awesomeness. Powerful performances, sharp direction and a very suspenseful, tense story with unforeseen twists and turns all play out to make a highly entertaining thriller that will keep you guessing what exactly is going on until the very end. Oh, and there is perhaps one of the best surprise cameos ever at the very end. Don’t let anyone spoil it for you. Leave any comments about what you thought about this in the comments section below, please share this movie review far and wide and as always, thank you for watching.