Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy (Kevin Wendell Crumb / Dennis / Patricia / Hedwig / Barry / Orwell / Jade, *others left out as they could reveal SPOILERS*), Anya Taylor-Joy (Casey Cooke), Betty Buckley (Dr. Karen Fletcher), Haley Lu Richardson (Claire Benoit), Jessica Sula (Marcia)
Cinematographer: Mike Gioulakis
Composer: West Dylan Thordson
Running Time: 117 minutes
Wow, so M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 sleeper hit, The Visit, wasn’t a fluke. Shyamalan has now directed two consecutive films that aren’t complete and utter trash (see After Earth and The Happening). Here’s the good news, Split is a well made and thoroughly chilling film that is compelling from start to finish. Here’s the bad news, “Oh God, bad news with Shyamalan, it has to be some stupid twist, or maybe Mark Wahlberg has a surprise cameo where he breathes loudly”. Fear not, the issues in Split are not deal breakers, but they keep Split from reaching its true potential. I will point out the flaws later in the post, but for now, let’s dissect Split.
Split is a story about a three girls who are kidnapped by a man named Kevin Wendell Crumb. Kevin suffers from DID disorder. This disorder is one in which a person may have multiple personalities, and at any point in time, they can bring out a specific personality. Kevin is evaluated by Dr. Fletcher, who seems to be the only person who understands “them”. While Dr. Fletcher knows that Kevin has always been troubled, something is different about him. This leads her to investigate further into the mind of a broken man, and what she finds is as confusing as anything she has ever seen. While Kevin’s actions may seem deranged, he unfortunately believes that the three girls serve a sole purpose. For the three girls, the only option is survival, Kevin however, has something more sinister in mind.
A couple of the performances in Split were nothing short of amazing. James McAvoy stole the screen every time he was pictured. It’s a testament to his ability as an actor that he was able to shift from personality to personality with such ease. While other actors may have made this character one dimensional, McAvoy was able to spread out each personality with a nuanced performance. Each of the personalities were vastly different from each other. They range from Hedwig, a nine year old boy who loves to dance, and Brad, an accomplished artist with a great fashion sense. There are a couple other personalities, but I want audiences to find out who they are themselves! McAvoy was convincing as each of the personalities, and it is truly a joy to watch him work. The other standout in Split is Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke. From the moment the camera was pointed in her direction, she was surreal. Taylor-Joy was able to portray a character that was deeply tormented with remarkable accuracy. However, she did not reveal all of those cards at first (credit to both Taylor-Joy and Shyamalan with the script), and as we learn more about Cooke, Taylor-Joy proved that she can handle any situation as an actress. Taylor-Joy was able to hit all the right notes, I can’t imagine any other actress in this role. Betty Buckley played Dr. Fletcher, and she was sufficient in her role. Unfortunately, the other two actresses; Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula, were just serviceable. This is in part due to the fact that they were essentially cookie cutter characters. Overall, the performances in Split were one of the strongest aspects of the film. Shyamalan deserves some credit for the two amazing performances. Talented directors know how to get the best out of their cast, and Shyamalan certainly brought out the best in both McAvoy and Taylor-Joy.
Split was a Shyamalan project first and foremost, especially considering that he wrote and directed the film. From the viewers perspective, you can tell that it’s a Shyamalan film from the start. To some movie fans, this may sound like a bad thing, but I’m here to tell you that this is classic Shyamalan. In Split, Shyamalan was able to tell a gripping story with his unique visual style, similar to what he accomplished with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. First let me discuss Shyamalan’s screenplay, it deserves attention. The two most important characters; Casey Cooke and Kevin, are incredibly complex. Both of them have interesting backstories, and I appreciate the care that Shyamalan gave Kevin, because it’s difficult to tell a story that involves a character with a mental disorder without causing controversy. Luckily, Shyamalan did not treat Kevin as a standard villain. Essentially, Kevin was a fractured individual who should be understood. I felt sorry for him the entire film, even though some of his acts were irreconcilable. As a result of his traumatic childhood, he was a deeply troubled individual, who couldn’t control his demons. Also, Shyamalan did a fantastic job with Casey Cooke. At first, she seemed like the clichéd outcast, however this did not turn out to be the case. This is one of the examples of remarkable character progression in Split. As we learn more about Cooke, we understand why she acted differently in the face of danger than her peers. I won’t spoil anything, but Cooke is tested as a young girl, and in the end she is tested in a similar fashion. However, in the end, Cooke reacts in a way that reflected how she had grown from one point of her life to another. Shyamalan deserves full credit for this great character development, it was the best moment of the film in my opinion. Secondly, let’s look at Shyamalan’s direction. He was able to craft a complex story with some challenging elements, and provide viewers with a consistently entertaining film.
As I mentioned early on in the review, Split is not a perfect film. The most debilitating flaw in the film involves something that could have easily been avoided. In the film, the three female characters that are kidnapped are needlessly sexualized. This may sound like a politically correct criticism, but hear me out, this is a legitimate concern. In a film where young ladies are kidnapped and held against their will, there should not be ANY sexualized characters. Look, I get that there is a double standard in films with regards to how females are portrayed, but considering some of the plot devices in this film (you’ll know when you see the film), the decision to have each female character strip down to their undergarments was in really poor taste. As it goes in the film, Dennis asked the girls at various points in the film to take off their clothes because their clothes were dirty. I just felt that was a cheap excuse to get them to take their clothes off. The other flaw in Split was not quite as problematic. Much like The Visit, Split was not always consistent in its tone. However, this was much more acceptable in the former than the latter. I could have done without the humor in Split, especially considering the subject matter. I feel humorous sequences were better served for The Visit, rather than Split. Although these criticisms were lengthy, they did not ruin the film overall.
Overall, Split is a film that is rich with nuanced characters, sharp writing, and a tight narrative. Split will keep audiences on the edge of their seats, and it is one of the best thrillers in years. Yes, M. Night Shyamalan is certainly back ladies and gentlemen.
How good was Split?
3 out of 4 stars