While he has certainly seen his share of critical failures, Director M. Night Shyamalan has seen somewhat of a resurgence in recent years with the under appreciated found-footage film “The Visit” shocking moviegoers in 2016 and “Devil”, which he wrote and produced, making its mark on modern horror in 2010. However many have waited for his true comeback film to arrive and it appears we finally have it in the form of the psychological horror thriller “Split”.
Focusing on a trio of young women taken captive by a man with 23 personalities living in his brain, “Split” features a very impressive performance by James McAvoy (“X-Men: Apocalypse”, “Wanted”) who steps into the shoes of the film’s antagonist, Kevin, and his many different identities. Casey, played by Anya Taylor-Joy (“Morgan”, “The Witch”) who has found an early niche for her career as a horror actress, is among the three girls abducted and works to formulate an escape with her fellow captives, meeting several of Kevin’s personalities along the way.
The three women meet neat freak Dennis, who kidnapped the trio, proper woman Patricia, and 9-year-old personality Hedwig who has the ability to force personalities into and out of “the light” to take control of Kevin’s body. The audience also learns about Kevin’s condition through his meetings with Dr. Karen Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley (“The Happening”) and as the film unfolds the pieces begin to come together as to the motives of the three personalities for performing the kidnapping and their plan for Kevin’s future.
In true Shyamalan fashion the film has it’s twists and turns. The shocking reveal of Casey’s past is harsh enough but once we find out the motives of Dennis, Patricia, and Hedwig the film takes a darker turn that puts the girls, and potentially the world, in danger as Kevin’s other personalities begin to lose control. The film also tackles some deep, and in ways disturbing, themes as Kevin’s darker personalities make implications about the human condition and imperfection. McAvoy does an outstanding job switching seamlessly between personalities while Anya Taylor-Joy proves to be a standout, continuing to show her growth as an actress by guiding her character through fear, setbacks, and a life-or-death battle of wits.
Of course the film concludes on an amazingly well kept secret, which many have probably learned by this point through word of mouth. For those who are fans of Shyamalan’s previous work, the concluding scene will truly surprise you and hints at a sequel while showing the viewer the world that was so small inside Kevin’s hideout is actually much bigger and the threat is more real than the film implied at the beginning.
While “Split” may have its naysayers due to the somewhat convoluted nature of its main character’s condition and its more negative and fear driven approach to the concept of dissociative identity disorder, it is a very solid film. With great casting, an impressive series of twists, and even a few character-developing scenes that actually feel significant to the plot, “Split” it an entertaining thrill ride that brings out the best Shyamalan, and the actors involved, have to offer. Here’s hoping this film solidifies a return to form for the always divisive king of plot twists.