Night Shyamalan delivers a suspenseful low budget thriller in Split, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Shyamalan was hot in the late 90’s and the early 2000’s, helming cult classics like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and arguably, Signs. Things went south with The Village, Lady in the Water, and especially bad for his attempt at Avatar: The Last Air Bender.
His famous twist endings became comic fodder and his films got less and less respect. Audiences dwindled and he was no longer the bankable boy wonder. Then last year he directed the low budget suspense horror film The Visit. The studio made a substantial return and some critics took notice.
His latest, Split is a solid little thriller, reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s early work—Blow Out, Dressed To Kill, and Body Double—which is to say elevated schlock. Despite Hollywood’s current philosophy that you need to spend buckets of money to make great movies, this isn’t the case. Most every Cult classics was a low budget movies that relied on great acting and story telling—far to many for me to list. With a decent script and James McAvoy as the lead, Shyamalan made a low budget gem.
McAvoy plays Kevin who has a severe case of dissociative identity disorder, ala Sybil, in this case, he maintains 23 personalities, some male, some female, heterosexual, homosexual, some as young as nine years old, some have OCD, and some have diabetes. The personalities have a certain pecking order amongst them, but number 24 is soon to arrive and the others have ominously named it the beast. McAvoy is the man for the job, in Split, like Filth, he flexes his acting muscle. He orchestrates such subtle accents and mannerisms with each personality, you may need a second viewing to catch them all.
A drug-induced abduction of three young girls kicks off Split, Claire (Haley LuRichardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula), and outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is not supposed to be there. Once they awake from their stupor, they realize that they are being held in a concrete cellar. Claire and Marcia want to attack their captor, but Casey dissuades them, seemingly having experience with this in the past. She wants to find the right time. Taylor joy as Casey is the other stand out performance here; she cautiously talks with Kevin’s personalities, acquiring little bits of integral info in hopes of ensuring an escape. We experience her traumatic childhood in flashbacks, giving us a better insight into her past and reinforcing our hopes for her survival. Nail biting tension pervades the scenes with Kevin and the girls. Unfortunately the film loses some of its steam, with the session scenes between Kevin and his psychiatrist. Too much psychobabble. Too much tell over show. But the film gets back on track when the beast is born.
The final scene with Taylor-Joy is Brilliant. With just the look in her eyes, we know that she will survive, and that all wrongs will be righted. No twist here, in the end, only confirmation of what has been exposed to the viewer along the way. I would like to see Shyamalan do more low budget films, like Split, and the Visit, I think the he has found a new niche. It’s by no means groundbreaking, but thanks to the two outstanding performances, and Shyamalan firmly in his comfort zone, Split turned out to be a taut thriller. Make sure you stay to the end; he has one more surprise.