Director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film is a psychological horror thriller film that stars James McAvoy in the role of a man who has 23 personalities living inside his head.
“Split” tells the story of Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy), a man who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. Forced to kidnap three girls by a maleficent and vigilant personality, Kevin begins a battle with all the personalities confined within his mind—as well as the three girls trapped with him—as the barriers between the sections of his mind completely break down and rupture.
“Split” is a return to form for M. Night in many ways. The film is unnerving, creepy and full of the dark humor M. Night has become known for. The creepiness felt throughout the film’s runtime is due to the multifaceted and dedicated performance of McAvoy, who offers audiences a look at an actor’s dedication to his craft.
McAvoy’s multiple performances showcasing the personalities living in Kevin’s head could have become overdramatic or campy. But McAvoy plays these characters with precision and just enough flair and absurdity to command the scene without seeming ridiculous. Also, McAvoy’s precision paints the character as strangely sympathetic. The sympathy for the character becomes lost by the final act, but McAvoy almost makes you feel for this twisted man who is at war with himself.
Additionally, sympathy ends up playing a key role in Taylor-Joy’s character. Her character is a protagonist in a different sense. Sure, she expresses a strong will to survive. But the film makes a habit of conveying just how damaged she is and how much she has endured in her past. It ultimately causes the audience to have empathy for her current predicament.
And her current predicament is creepy. “Split” displays a return to the twisted mind of M. Night that’s been absent from his last few films. “The Visit” was a mixed result, adding shock value with failed sentimentality. However, “Split” does not try to be anything other than a creepy thriller. No twist is tacked on at the end, no random and strange scene closes the film. But the film does have issues with pacing. As fast as M. Night tries to pace each scene, there are moments where the film slows down and scenes lumber by. The lagging pace does little to detract from the eeriness of the film, though.
M. Night has seemingly learned his lesson from directing failed blockbusters like “After Earth.” The director (mostly) utilizes subtlety in exchange for dramatics. While the director is now a film fanatics’ meme for the way he traditionally adds twists to his films, “Split” feels more natural.
Furthermore, the subtleness to M. Night’s direction brings a welcome vibe to the film. Scenes are shot from strange and unique corners, adding a sense of discomforting danger that’s quickly approaching. The scenes and camera angles are taut and accurate in this precision. M. Night does not do more than he needs to with each passing scene.
Overall, “Split” is a welcome return to M. Night and features a film that’s wickedly fun to watch. If M. Night continues to shoot low-budget films and focus more on the characters and less on the twists, we might see a director truly save his career and produce films that are much more welcomed by audiences.