Shyamalan’s inconsistencies as a director are decidedly ignominious. He spellbound us with The Sixth Sense, but soon after befuddled with lady in the Water, provoked derisive jeers with The Happening, and merely bored us with The Last Airbender and After Earth.
The pared back horror of The Visit signalled a renaissance for the auteur, with its genuinely frightening aesthetic, and even a decent Shyamalan twist! But, armed with what seems to be a more significant budget, and far more loopy creative ambition, Split is Shyamalan’s true calling card to what hopefully is a far more fortuitous run of features.
Using the disorder of DID, and a true story (!), to create its bonkers premise, McAvoy plays Kevin, a man who possesses 23 distinct personalities, some of which are male and some of which are female, some of which are young, and some of which are old, some of which are homosexual and some of which are heterosexual, some of which have OCD or require insulin for diabetes, and some of which are really rather volatile and dangerous.
The catch? The 24th is about to arrive, with all hell set to break loose. If this sounds like an actor’s dream job, you’re right. With the opportunity to flex his acting muscles to the nth degree, all-accent-changing, mannerism-altering McAvoy rises to the challenge with a performance of breathtaking versatility.
The film around him is never quite as reliable as this towering performance, however. The plot functions between an incredibly tense kidnapping/hostage situation and a doctor who purports to be an expert of DID. While eventually serving a narrative purpose, in the early scenes, Shyamalan’s switching to this doctor’s narrative grinds the movie to something of a halt, leaving you longing for the far more interesting story to develop and ultimately resolve.
That being said, the movie never bores for a second, thanks to Shyamalan’s distinctive style and an ominous score, as well as Anya Taylor Joy, so impressive in The Witch, who proves she isn’t a one trick pony. In addition, like THe Visit, Split is, unexpectedly, quite funny, in a way that never sacrifices tension, but rather serves to enhance it by catching you off guard with scares when you’re recovering from a bizarre joke – it’s a terrific tactic that serves the film well.
Most worthy of recommendation is the film’s third act, which evolves into something genuinely terrifying and ferociously tense, as twist upon twist piles up to create a thrilling sense of chaos and dread. Less convincing are Shyamalan’s repeated attempts at motifs of beasts and animals, which feel shoehorned in and unnecessary. Despite al this, Split is a worthy work from Shyamalan that will deliver a jolt of high octane thrills to your nerves, one which will certainly be needed in the doldrums of the January dumping