M. Night Shyamalan has had a mixed history in film. His career has seen many ups and downs, including commercial and critical hits (Signs and The Sixth Sense) as well as egregious missteps (The Last Airbender).
After a few unsuccessful years, Shyamalan redeemed himself with the release of the 2015 film The Visit. The Visit, though hindered by its overly simplistic plot, featured a signature Shyamalan twist that fans have come to know and expect over the course of the writer and director’s career.
With his most recent feature, Shymalan is back at the top of his game. Split’s intriguing premise features a great opportunity for James McAvoy. McAvoy portrays Kevin, an ill young man with Dissociative Identity Disorder. One of Kevin’s 24 alternate personalities kidnaps three girls and plans to brutally murder them as a sacrifice to the impending 24th personality.
Split is a psychological thriller, but its pace is slow enough to allow audiences to think through and analyze the film’s more complex concepts. McAvoy is accompanied by the talents of Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, Haley Lu Richardson as Claire and Jessica Sula as Marcia.
Casey is a more quiet and reserved young girl, and she is forced into the kidnapping with the others after attending Claire’s birthday party in what she refers to as a “pity invite.” Once they end up in the situation, Casey takes charge in figuring out how to escape the clutches of the dangerous Kevin.
Another interesting part of the film’s format is the inclusion of Kevin’s doctor. Dr. Karen Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley, seeks to understand not only Kevin’s issues, but the secrets behind DID. This arc does well to provide some explanation to how Kevin became this way, as well as alleviate the audience and move away from the film’s darker moments.
Split succeeds in many areas. It is unique in that, while it is labeled as a psychological thriller, there are many elements of other genres within the film.
There are moments of horror and even comedy: Shyamalan threads the needle between these genres and was able to assemble one of the best scripts of his career. His attention to detail is notable, with shots that are so visually powerful that no dialogue is needed to get the point across.
Shyamalan’s incorporation of Philadelphia is an attentive addition to the film. He utilizes the location well and even incorporates it into some of the dialogue.
This added authenticity makes the film seem more credible, though it is heavily based in the supernatural. The style of filming captures the essence of the city as well as the anxiety of each character, including many of Kevin’s personalities.
Low budgets can sometimes burden films and prevent them from being as effective as they could. In this case, Shyamalan is able to forgo a large budget and focus on a more personal approach.
Because his direction and script are so sharp, Shyamalan overcomes the low budget to produce a thrilling and incredibly compelling feature. Split is arguably the director’s best film, and it will be sure to impress even the biggest of Shyamalan skeptics.