When the name M. Night Shyamalan comes to mind, one can’t help but wonder what went wrong. After his highly successful 1999 film, “The Sixth Sense,” blew everyone’s minds with its clever storytelling and twist ending, he became an A-list director over night. Then “The Village,” made fans concerned that his signature twist ending would get tired. After that, “Lady in the Water” and “The Happening” ruined his reputation and “The Last Airbender” seemingly buried whatever chances he had at redeeming himself.
Just when it seemed like he was gone forever, in 2015, he released his addition to the found footage genre with “The Visit,” which was a moderate success. Now comes his latest effort in the thriller genre that he onced pioneered.
“Split” follows three classmates, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), who are kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy), a sufferer of dissociative identity disorder with 23 personalities. Kevin’s personalities say that they are being held to witness the birth of the 24th personality simply called, “The Beast.” Meanwhile, his psychologist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) starts to suspect that Kevin’s more deceptive personalities are becoming more dominant and are up to something sinister.
James McAvoy does a great job at giving each personality a unique posture and distinguishable characteristics. McAvoy can naturally go from intimidating to friendly and back in a millisecond. It also helps that Shyamalan and McAvoy worked to make Kevin hard to predict. However, his performance requires the viewer to suspend their sense of disbelief when it comes to the actual science behind dissociative identity disorder, as it can go to ridiculous lengths. Anya Taylor-Joy, who broke into the spotlight after her terrific performance in “The Witch,” also shines in this film even though her character could have had a backstory with more creativity.
Some plot elements could have been constructed better, especially in the first act. Such as the kidnapping scene — the way it played out on screen was completely unbelievable. Shyamalan could have made it so that the three girls wake up in the basement room not knowing each other or where they are. That way, there could have been some scenes where the girls try to bond, since the characters of Claire and Marcia are only there to cause trouble.
Produced on a budget of around $9 million, Shyamalan and “It Follows” cinematographer Mike Gioulakis crafted a film that never looked or felt cheap. The look of the film brilliantly captures the claustrophobic nature of being trapped in a room and Kevin’s many personalities fighting for a chance to take control. The score by West Dylan Thordson deserves mention, as his soundtrack elevated the film’s unnerving atmosphere with his theme that sounded like a synthetic growl slowly breathing in and out.
For the most part, “Split” works decently enough to pass as an entertaining thriller. The film struggles at times to balance its sense of humor with its suspenseful tone, but then again, that’s always been an issue with Shyamalan. It’s worth giving him a pat on the back for making a watchable film —but to say “Shyamalan is BACK!” — is pushing it a bit. Let’s not give him the same level of praise that led him to become the ego-maniac that gave us “Lady in the Water.”