Split (2017): Welcome Back, M. Night
M. Night Shyamalan’s name was considered toxic just a few short years ago, but after the moderate sucess of The Visit, he seems to be regaining some traction in the film community. Now he’s back at it again with another thriller entitled Split. As always, the following review will be spoiler free so that you are spared of any possible spoilers of a patented Shyamalan ending.
Split stars James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy along with Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richarson, and Jessica Sula in supporting roles. The film follows McAvoy as a man who has dissociative identity disorder and has been identified by his psychiatrist as having 23 different personalities that live inside him. Things begin to escalate when the man abducts three girls led by Casey (Taylor-Joy). Now Casey and the other two girls must attempt to escape or else feel the wrath of the man’s different personalities.
Like many other moviegoers, I really enjoyed M. Night Shyamalan’s first three films: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. He had such a subtle way of telling a well told story but then, in some, cases pulling the rug right out from under you for a great twist. The first time I watched The Sixth Sense was quite possibly one of my favorite movie experiences I’ve ever had. It was truly disheartening to see him start to put together some pretty unwatchable films right in a row (I still haven’t been able to get all the way through The Last Airbender). We’ve seen such greatness in him before, so what exactly happened?
Shortly after his run of great films to start his career, Shyamalan was coined the next Spielberg by many, which could have easily gone to his head, inflating his ego to unreasonably high heights. You began to see this idea in his movies, especially by the tagline of The Happening which exclaimed:
We’ve Sensed It. We’ve Seen The Signs. Now, It’s Happening.
Anyone who references his other films so blatantly clearly wants to be at the center of the stage.
Yet here I am, still crossing my fingers that the great Shyamalan returns to us.
What causes this behavior?
I’d like to think that it’s because Shyamalan’s first few films were as thoughtful as they were impressive. To this day I have yet to duplicate the feeling that movies such as Unbreakable or The Sixth Sense has given me. Not that these are necessarily the best movies of all time (they most certainly are not), but they have such a different feel. They’re truly one in a million (or two in a million for semantics sake).
What I Liked
So here I was, crossing my fingers that Shyamalan follows up his middling success in The Visit with a great movie to add to his trio. While this is a review for a Shyamalan so it will remain purposely vague so that all my readers may enjoy the film wholeheartedly, I will say this:
Welcome back, M. Night.
Split is certainly not a film for everyone, the film quickly weeds out possible audience members with it’s premise alone. There are a few moments that can possibly make people check out of the movie completely, and I wouldn’t blame them for doing so, but this film challenges its audience in the best way by giving you a movie that is WAY out there. I admire Shyamalan for having the guts to make a movie that is such a departure from any movie in recent memory, especially since he’s still walking on thin ice as he attempts a reclamation project. Bold movies like Split are needed in Hollywood these days.
What I Liked…Continued
It’s a real shame that Split is being released in January. If this movie was released in a month like November or December, then James McAvoy would be nominated for an Oscar instantly. Unfortunately, with all the politics and red tape involved in Oscar nominations, he’ll most likely get buried under other performances that we’ll see later this year. McAvoy completely lets loose. The trailers don’t even hint at the type of actions all his identities perform. Every single one of his identities have different mannerisms, vocal patterns, and motivations. A few times throughout the movie, he changes personalities right in front of our eyes and it feels incredibly organic. McAvoy was certainly courageous, and we should all appreciate him for it, because this film doesn’t work without such audacity.
What I Didn’t Like
Split isn’t without its flaws, however. The film a little narratively stilted. We see the backstory of Anya Taylor-Joy’s character (who also puts in a marvelous performance and continues to become a star) in a way that feels a little misused. As the story progresses, you understand why it’s needed for the movie. However, it didn’t feel very natural and often times stopped the flow of the film dead in its tracks. Split contains some “info-dump” scenes that are solely there to help explain what’s happening. These scenes also betray the movie since Split as a whole puts a lot of faith in the audience to trust what is happening.
However, Split is still a great time at the theater. Each part of the film builds, growing stronger than the last. The final act alone helps you to forget the flaws of the movie. This film rewards those who have stuck with Shyamalan through thick and thin and it is truly rewarding. It’s genuinely creepy, intense, and sometimes strangely funny.
Overall, Split is unlike any movie I’ve seen in a very long time. You’ll most likely have to see it opening weekend so that it’s not spoiled for you! Split gets an A-.
Welcome back, M. Night. Welcome back, indeed.
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