It’s redemption for box-office poison: M Night Shyamalan’s latest movie, Split, shows that his revival – since 2015’s The Visit – is set to continue. With this psychological thriller, the director behind the jaw-dropping The Sixth Sense and the abysmal Avatar: The Last Airbender is back with what he’s best at.
It’s basic horror tropes Shyamalan plays with in Split: A man, Kevin Wendell, kidnaps 3 young ladies to sacrifice to “The Beast”. The difference here is Kevin (James McAvoy) suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID) and has 24 different identities, some who can help the girls, and some who actively want to help “The Beast”. The girls – Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) – have to figure out just who they can ally with to escape.
Oh, and “The Beast”? It’s Kevin’s 24th identity.
It’s a simple, fun tale, and Shyamalan manages to distil it to all that he really needs. A lot of it hinges on Kevin and the other personalities, and McAvoy tackles the role with great relish – he moves from character to character with chilling effect, at times painting then in broad strokes when it works best. This is great physical acting – and it’s no hyperbole to say that McAvoy at times appears larger than life.
McAvoy’s performance is complemented with by Taylor-Joy’s Casey, and moody outsider with a past. You might recognise her from a previous horror movie – The Witch – and she shines once again in yet another role in the same genre. You’ll be rooting for Casey throughout, and it’s her effortless performance that’s a fine counterpoint to McAvoy’s (needed) theatrics.
Split is Shyamalan at the top at his game. It’s clear he has a six sense for what he’s best at – it’s not the effects-laden movies, but the simple psychological thriller. You can almost sense his glee as he deftly, slowly twists the screws, ramping the tension up. This time, he doesn’t even need a shocking twist ending to bring the movie home. That said, there’s a surprise ending of sorts in there – purely for fans of his movies.
On the surface, Split is a fantastic thriller that shows Shyamalan doing what he does best. I’m no fan of horror movies but this is one you’ll want to watch before everyone else in case anybody spoils anything. But there’s a dark side to it all too – while it’s suggested that DID is a key to unlocking the powers of the human mind, the disease is ultimately vilified. Like countless movies before it, it stigmatises those who suffer from DID – a topic, that in 2017, should be dealt with with more delicacy.