Most directors who find early success typically will either fizzle out, or keep the early momentum, and make more hits than misses. M.Night Shyamalan however, had the early success, then fizzled out, and now is returning to success once again, with his last two outings, 2015’s The Visit, and his newest directorial effort, Split. Split is a complex story that focuses on Kevin, played by James McAvoy, who suffers from dissociative personality disorder, with two dozen personas living within his brain. The film begins when one of the previously dormant personalities kidnaps three young girls, and holds them in a secret location, for a plan that unfolds through the course of the film. The film follows the girls as they struggle for survival, all while Kevin’s personalities are jockeying for control. The trouble with reviewing a film like Split, is that the less you know going into the film, the better, because like many of Shyamalan’s earlier films, there are a few twists and turns that help craft a very enjoyable film.
McAvoy is the standout of the film, as he looks to be having a blast getting to play so many characters within one film. While the audience doesn’t get to see all of the personalities that Kevin possesses, the ones that are presented are all wonderful additions to the story. The main personalities are Dennis, the man who kidnaps the girls, and appears to be running the show, Patricia, a motherly figure who assures the girls that they will not be harmed by Dennis, and Hedwig, a 9 year old boy who trusts Dennis and Patricia, and doesn’t want to do anything to anger them. The Dennis and Patricia characters are both fairly straightforward, but McAvoy does a great job with the subtleties of the different personalities, as evidence the most by Hedwig, who talks with a higher pitched lisp, and walks bent at the knees to appear shorter. Each character has a change in clothes, demeanor, voice and personality to showcase they are individuals, as without these differences, each character would not come across as their own. The kidnapped girls are all ok, though Anya Taylor-Joy’s main character Casey Cooke is the best of the three, as Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula’s Claire and Marcia, are not given much more to do than scream, and try to escape. Casey is the most fleshed out of the girls, as she is also given a backstory, though the details of her history are too spoilerish to discuss, but not all of these elements worked, as the flashbacks cut throughout the film, go on too long, with only the final two having any meaningful impact. The only other character of note is Kevin’s therapist Dr. Fletcher, who once introduced, questions whether or not the personality she has been speaking to, Barry, is still in charge, or if something worse has happened. Watching Dr. Fletcher working through the sessions with Kevin are intense to watch, as the audience is aware what Kevin has been up to, and the actress Betty Buckley, displays wonderful facial acting, as she looks both concerned, and reserved, as she doesn’t want to set Kevin off, knowing that she is speaking to a darker person than she is used to.
The film isn’t perfect, as it does drag a bit in the middle. While a strong third act does tend elevate films, and make you forget about a sluggish middle third, in this case the slower pace hurts more, as it removes a lot of the tension that needed to be built up. As a result, the more intense finale is not as thrilling as it could be, because it has to ramp up the tension again after if had previously dropped off. There are also a few instances where information is omitted or ignored, simply for the purposes of preventing escapes, or just to manufacture tension, which it fails to do in those moments.
While Split isn’t Shyamalan’s best film, it is certainly better than most of his previous entries, and while not as intense as the premise wants it to be, it does enough to be interesting throughout the 2 hour runtime, that by the time the final moments come, you do fear for the safety of all involved. Split will be certain to get those who see it talking, especially about the closing moments, but when judged on the whole film, it doesn’t impress as much as similar movies; last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane comes to mind, as that film does a better job with similar subject matter. It is still worth seeing Split for James McAvoy alone, as his performance is highly enjoyable, and capable of carrying the film.