Split movie review: James McAvoy-starrer is the M Night Shyamalan comeback we've waited for
We’d all been waiting for this moment. It’s been almost ten years now but it’s finally here. This is the moment when even rabid haters turn into believers. It’s the comeback of one of the most talented filmmakers of this generation — M Night Shyamalan.
After a series of films that got subsequently and significantly worse, the streak of Shyamalan’s disappointments seemingly ended with the ultimate misfire of the Scientology film After Earth. With last year’s The Visit Shyamalan did the right thing by going back to his roots on a shoestring budget and it was an effective thriller that undid some of the damages of some of his previous few films. Split, however, is a bonafide roar back to form which showcases why Shyamalan became a superstar in the first place.
The story doesn’t waste any time in getting started. Three girls (Anya Taylor Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula) are kidnapped in the parking lot in broad daylight by a mysterious, unnamed bald man (James McAvoy). The man keeps them prisoner in a dingy room in an unknown location, and never tells them what he plans to do with them. With time clearly running out, the girls must think of ways to get the hell out of this situation, but just when they feel there’s an escape route they discover that the man suffers from severe personality disorder and does some pretty crazy things every time he shifts personas.
With a plot like that, what could easily have become a B-movie transcends to much higher levels of genre cinema thanks to Shyamalan’s ability to wring out effective performances and incredibly claustrophobic, and at times darkly humorous thrills. There’s a persistent buildup of tension throughout the film, culminating in a third act that is pretty crazy, scientifically implausible but vastly fun enough to be accepted as wonderful entertainment. The big reveal in the film is reminiscent of the director’s earlier works but an infinitesimally thin pulp layer to the film makes the reveal acceptable and even enjoyable.
A lot of credit goes to the film’s cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (It Follows) who captures some seriously thrilling imagery in dark locations like the dungeon and a train. After The Witch and Morgan, Anya Taylor Joy continues to impress — she’s well on her way to becoming a big star.
McAvoy, however is the ultimate reason to see this film — shifting effortlessly between characters (23 of them) he’s in equal parts hilarious and scary. There’s a scene at a psychiatrist’s office where he’s pretending to be one personality while being governed by another, and the way his face shifts when his cover is blown will take your breath away. McAvoy not being nominated for this year’s Oscars was in fact the biggest snub from the Academy.
Without giving away the details, the ending of the film is like a character in itself. The consequences of what happens before the frame cuts to black are tremendous and you’ll be left with the feeling that you got a lot more than you expected. However you interpret the ending, it bodes well for whatever Shyamalan is doing next. There are already tons of discussions on the finale on forums, so jump right in after you see the film.