For a long time now M. Night Shyamalan has been associated with terrible movies. In fact, if you're like me, he's only directed two good movies in his entire career, those being The 6th Sense and Unbreakable. If you're like most people you'll throw Signs in there and if you're Aaron Cronican you'll wrongfully include The Village. When I first saw the trailer for Split I got very excited because of James McAvoy and the fact that Anya Taylor-Joy was also starring didn't hurt because, if you've been listening to the main show (and hopefully you have) you'll know that I absolutely loved her in The Witch. Then I found out that it was a Shyamalan film and my heart sank, but upon release initial reviews were positive, so my hopes were raised once again that this movie might not suck. At the time of this writing I'm about an hour removed from having seen the movie and I wanted to get my thoughts down while it was still fresh in my mind so, without further ado, let's talk Split. I'll try to keep this one as spoiler free as I can since it's so new, but I make no promises. Read on at your own risk if you haven't seen the movie yet.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a Shyamalan film in both direction and writing. Usually that's a bad thing, but this felt more in the vein of Unbreakable and 6th Sense. It wasn't over the top or cheesy like some of his other movies, and it wasn't utterly boring like the vast majority of his recent work. I know the movie has only been out for a little over a week but it's sitting pretty with a 73% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with a critic score of 6.4 out of 10, as well as an 82% from audiences giving it a 7.8 out of 10. Also as mentioned earlier the movie stars James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy, and that's about it. The two other girls in the movie haven't been in anything else to my knowledge, and I didn't recognize the lady who played the psychiatrist either.
For those of you who haven't seen or heard anything about this movie, Split follows three young girls (mostly Anya Taylor-Joy and two girls who don't really matter) that get abducted by McAvoy, who suffers from DID aka multiple personality disorder. All the trailers made a big deal about how McAvoy's character has "twenty-three separate identities" and I was excited to see how he'd be able to handle playing multiple rolls. To my disappointment, the movie only focuses on three or four of these twenty-three identities, but James McAvoy acts the hell out of all of them. I know it probably won't happen since this is a January release, and it may seem audacious of me to say this, but I feel that McAvoy's performance in this film is Oscar-worthy. He's able to bring each identity to life in a way that feels real and plausible and it's fantastic. Anya Taylor-Joy is also great, which continues to make me excited about the career she has ahead of her. Betty Buckley (the lady who plays the psychiatrist) is also very good in this movie and after looking her up apparently she was in the '76 Carrie so she's no stranger to horror films. Speaking of horror films, the trailers absolutely sold this as a horror and it's categorized as horror as well. While there are horror elements in it I would call it more of a thriller than full-on horror, but that's neither here nor there.
Next, let's talk about the story. I kind of touched on earlier, but three girls get abducted by Kevin (McAvoy) who has twenty-two other identities living in his body. The reason they are abducted is unknown at first and the girls start off assuming it's a rape thing, but we find out as the movie goes on the reason is far more sinister. During the course of the movie we're peppered with flashbacks of Anya Taylor-Joy's childhood. I thought this odd at fist because they didn't seem to fit, but as the story progressed and we got more flashbacks it made more sense as to where the movie was going. The whole idea behind this movie is that the different identities have their own unique physiological traits. For example, one identity may be allergic to bees, while another one is diabetic. Though all the identities share the same body, their biology shifts depending on which identity is dominant at the time.
Through the course of the film, we learn of a mysterious twenty-fourth identity and full disclosure, this is where the movie almost lost me. This new identity is called "The Beast" and according to the other identities he's almost superhuman withing skin has hard as armor and having the ability to crawl on any surface like Spider-Man. Also he eats people. The psychiatrist character insists that this persona doesn't exist but near the end of the film we do see the beast manifest and it starts to feel like the Shyamalan we've come to know and despise. I remember thinking to myself "If this is the stupid Shyamalan twist it just ruined what would have otherwise been a fantastic movie" and if it weren't for the very ending (which I'm not going to spoil because that sucks all the fun out of it) I would have left disappointed. Luckily, the very end of the movie almost entirely makes up for the borderline silliness of the "Beast" character.
While I'm on the subject of characters, I want to talk a little bit more about McAvoy's acting. As I mentioned earlier, the movie really only focuses on a small handful of the twenty-three identities he has, but he does a great job with all of them. They each have their on nuances that I imagine would be very difficult to keep track of. We have Dennis, the dominant personality who has OCD; Patricia, a woman who at first seems kindly but you can tell she has some darkness in her; and Hedwig, a 9-year-old boy who talks like he might be a bit slow. At a couple points in the film McAvoy switches rapidly between these personas as well as some others, and I have to commend him on his talent. Seriously, I want him to be nominated at next year's Oscars for this but I know it probably won't happen.
Overall, I had high hopes for this movie and I was not disappointed. This is Shyamalan's best film since Unbreakable in my opinion. I would absolutely recommend this if for no other reason than to experience the genius that is Jame McAvoy.
Have you seen Split? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!