Shyamalan has given us some great films and some turds. So with each new film, we roll the dice (or we give up and ignore his output altogether). When Split hit theaters, I figured I’d check it out eventually but I was in no big rush to see it. Sure, I liked his last film, The Visit, but I’ve meh’ed about half or more of his films overall. Liking his last one wasn’t enough to convince me that he was on a winning streak. And the tweets like “Don’t let anyone tell you the shocker twist ending!!” just made me roll my eyes. It’s Shyamalan. We figured there’d be a twist. I won’t spoil it, but know that it stands on it’s own pretty well even if you did happen to hear/read a spoiler. Without further ado… Let’s get into it, shall we?
Claire’s birthday party is a hit. Everyone from her art class showed up. Even the weirdo loner, Casey. When Casey’s ride doesn’t come for her, Claire’s dad offers to drive her home. No problem – he’s already giving Claire’s bestie, Marcia, a ride anyway. The girls pile into the car while dad loads the presents in the trunk. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make it into the car with them. Instead, James McAvoy playing a man with a multitude of distinct personalities gets in and gases the girls. They wake up locked in a bunker-like room together where they find they will have to navigate and manipulate some of the man’s personalities if they are to escape. It quickly becomes apparent that Claire and Casey have two very different approaches to handling their predicament. Will either strategy save them? Or will they meet “the beast” that the man’s personas keeps talking about? (the one that they’re being ‘offered’ to as sacred food)
If you’ve heard anything about Split, you’ve probably heard praise for James McAvoy’s performance as the multiple personality antagonist. Well, that praise is well deserved. He plays a dozen different roles and nails every one. A feat of acting strength akin to Tatiana Maslany’s performances in “Orphan Black”. It’s always impressive to see an actor completely inhabit a role, but it’s amazing to watch actors inhabit several characters within a single narrative. McAvoy isn’t the only one nailing roles though. Anya Taylor-Joy (living deliciously, i presume) also puts in a powerful performance as the brooding misfit who seems unsettlingly adept at dealing with someone(s) threatening her well-being. Shyamalan has given horror fans another genre gem. His second in a row! His characters in Split are compelling and well fleshed out. Their peril is pulse-quickening and urgent. And his complex antagonist scatters viewers’ sympathies so that we are simultaneously rooting for and against him depending on his persona. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it’s an intense, white-knuckle battle of wills and wits. (even if it’s built on a shaky premise. dissociative identity has a rocky diagnostic history. and films about mental disorders have an even rockier history!) You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned a twist. Has our twist maven gone off brand? Of course not. One could argue that the finale is in itself a twist, though one that (much like the “twist” in The Visit) is telegraphed well ahead of time. One could alternately argue that the real twist is during the in-credits scene at the end. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how twisty it is. I certainly liked it. (and if you’re groaning that even knowing there’s a twist is a “spoiler”, then you must be new to Shyamalan’s work. good for you. you’re still going to have fun)
The Final Cut: Shyamalan is on a roll with his second quality horror film in a row. McAvoy and Taylor-Joy put in some very impressive performances that sell the film’s somewhat dubious premise and pull viewers in for a tense ride.