“Split” is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and stars James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Betty Buckley. The film is about three teenage girls who are kidnapped by a man with multiple personality disorder, and the girls must attempt to persuade some of the 23 different personas in order to try to escape.
This is a movie that I was extremely excited to see simply because of the incredible premise behind it. The storyline seemed to be a brilliant idea, and the trailer completely sold me, and I was hoping that Shyamalan would continue to be on the upswing following 2015’s well-made “The Visit”.
James. McAvoy. This is, without a doubt, one of the best performances I have seen over the past year, as McAvoy singlehandedly brings this film up to a whole new level with his role here, as he makes each one of his various personalities completely come to life. Where many actors certainly could have failed, each and every time McAvoy switches into a separate personality, it was easy to follow and they were all equally well done, and it was a beautiful thing to watch McAvoy showcase everything he can do.
Anya Taylor-Joy, who I loved in “The Witch” and liked in “Morgan”, was also very good here. Of the three girls, she certainly gives the best performance, and I found her character to be the one I felt the most emotion towards, and also found that her performance actually added something to the film. The backstory of Taylor-Joy, which stars the young actress Izzie Coffey, is incredibly well done and features some impactful moments that I did not expect this movie to have.
The character played by Betty Buckley was one that I felt unsure about coming in, but her role as McAvoy’s therapist/doctor was something I really enjoyed, as it really broke down the illness his character suffers through very well, and also made for some strong character development.
There are a lot of things that M. Night Shyamalan does very well here, and almost all of it revolves around McAvoy. Shyamalan lets him shine and really act through each of these characters without everything forcing information to be spoon fed to the audience, and I really respected the style in which he directed this movie. I also loved the camerawork done by Mike Gioulakus, who similarly did terrific work in the 2014 horror film, ”It Follows”, as here he holds long shots on characters looking straight into the camera lens with absolutely chilling effects.
There is simply a weird, tense vibe that Shyamalan creates from a fantastic opening sequence all the way until the conclusion that is difficult to describe. There is a smart blend of humor and insanity, but it all comes back to McAvoy, who just does such a wonderful job switching personas. From a straightforward character to a more comical character and then back into a terrifying character, McAvoy does all of this seamlessly, so seamlessly, in fact, that I wish this film came out a month earlier so he could qualify for an Oscar.
As tremendous and out of this world as McAvoy is here, there are simply some performances that just couldn’t keep up, and this mainly is with the two girls that are not named Anya Taylor-Joy. Haley Lu Richardson, who was great in “The Edge of Seventeen”, isn’t necessarily bad here, but she never adds anything to the film, instead being somewhat of a piece to look at, as well as someone who simply screams when danger is coming. The same can be said for Jessica Sula, who is perfectly fine as well but never really anything more than that.
For a movie marketed as a horror film, it’s not all that scary, with the movie certainly leaning more towards a tense-filled thriller category. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, “The Gift” was marketed this way as well, but this is more of a heads up to those looking to be scared by “Split”. There’s a lot of good here, and there are loads of insanely weird, creepy moments, but very little that I would classify in the horror genre.
The biggest disappointment from “Split” came with its marketing, in a way. This is a minor spoiler, but I think it is one that you would want to know before going to see the movie. The movie is marketed as this man with 23 personalities, but you really only see eight at the most throughout the entire runtime, and the focus is on three or four of them for the vast majority of the film. This would have been fine if the film decided to say he had, say, ten personalities, but to say he has 23 and only show us a third of those, it feels rather lazy.
I also didn’t love the end and the style in which the movie decides to conclude. I liked the buildup, and some of the concepts leading up to the conclusion, but the final payoff just didn’t land that well. No spoilers, of course, but I just wanted a more solid, more concrete finale than what we got.
“Split” features a career-turning performance for James McAvoy, and offers on its promise to be an effectively tense thriller with some very interesting ideas at play, as well as some stunningly powerful emotion. It is a little disappointing that there weren’t more personalities present, and that the horror element was lacking, and that the end didn’t wow as much as expected from a Shyamalan film, but this is certainly a movie that keeps Shyamalan going on the right track. “Split” has some comedy, it has tension, and it is a movie that was unique enough to grab my attention from start to finish.
What did you think of “Split”? Comment below with your thoughts.