Split is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and stars James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Betty Buckley.
Split tells a story of three teenage girls who are abducted by Kevin (McAvoy), a man with DID (Disassociative Identity Disorder) and who has 23 personalities living in his head. That is all. I’m keeping it incredibly vague for a very good reason.
We film-goers have had a bit of love/hate saga with M. Night Shyamalan over the years, haven’t we? It seems like ages ago that he wrote and directed “The Sixth Sense” (1999) and was being hailed at the time as “the next Spielberg”. Shyamalan then had another HUGE hit with “Unbreakable” (2003) and then proceeded to pump out a chain of awful films for a little over a decade before fading into obscurity. After a slight stir of potential with “The Visit” (2015), I am happy to report that Split is M. Night Shyamalan’s best film since “The Sixth Sense”.
What made M. Night so famous in the first place was his ability to build a tension-filled narrative over three acts with well-written dialogue, interesting characters, and stick the landing with an incredible ending (alongside his famous trademark–the plot twist.) This film is a triumph of those traits of old, with a chilling, tense, and fascinating story being told amidst wonderfully developed characters, tension, and plot development escalating towards a gripping climax (with a twist!) The dialogue and writing, in general, is refreshing and unique, being tense and disturbing when it had to be so, but also being genuinely funny when the comedic relief was intended. The three main characters here are all incredibly engaging and offer a lot to the progression of the film, primarily in flashback scenes that aid character development, and the incredible performances from Taylor-Joy, Buckley, and McAvoy respectively (especially McAvoy, who quite literally steals every scene he’s in.)
Despite very clever writing and plot intricacies, there are times when the film comes to a bit of a halt, especially during an exposition-heavy Skype conference call scene and a scene in which Casey (Taylor-Joy) learns about more of Kevin’s various split personalities through video diaries. While these scenes aren’t necessarily boring or poorly made, they don’t offer a whole lot to the otherwise seamless flow of the plot. In addition, the other two teenage girls who are kidnapped along with Casey give rather lackluster and unlikable performances and aren’t as easy to connect to as Casey was, therefore emitting little to no sympathy for their cause rather than Casey’s.
While having one or two problems, Split is still a masterfully made thriller and breathed back the life into the career of one of my favorite directors. It’s engaging, tense, funny, and gets an A.