Split, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (beyond the roller coaster that is his filmmaking career), is a nail-biting thriller that follows a psychotic, mentally disturbed man (portrayed brilliantly by James McAvoy) with multiple personalities, each one, of 23, uniquely horrifying. Upon kidnapping a trio of innocent girls, each of his identities begins to unfold, leaving the girls in a state of hysterical disbelief. His psychologist (Betty Buckley), meanwhile, peels back the layers of his mind, revealing his true nature.
James McAvoy gives a lot to his role, and it shows, animating each of his identities in a precise way. His personas span an obsessive intellectual with twisted fantasies, a timid caretaker, and occasionally a little boy with blue socks, with several others in between. Beyond a few wardrobe changes, he adds subtle expressions and mannerisms that bring each of them to life. This movie is worth seeing for that aspect alone. He dabbles in conversations with himself, and his identities function as living people. It is wickedly entertaining.
Anya Taylor-Joy portrays a girl with a troubled past (shown through eerily parallel flashbacks), who is stoic and monotonously emotive, but she has plenty of depth. She was good in her role, especially when compared to the other two. They were hysterical and careless, spouting on about fighting back and gnawing at the walls to escape. They were pretty absent-minded, too. There was a scene where they were trapped and they needed a tool to escape, so they rummaged through the supplies nearby, but instead of looking inside any boxes, they just slapped everything around them in haste. Some of their thoughts were so idiotic (check that off the list of horror cliches). Aside from the questionable, cheesy dialogue they had on top of that, it felt like they were reciting a script, as opposed to living through their character, and it was really distracting. Nonetheless, the film held up despite them, but don’t expect an award-winning performance on their part.
How did this film hold up as a whole? It was quite enjoyable. One storytelling issue that might particularly bother watchers is consistency. Split is not consistent on how it reveals information. It resulted in the motivations of some characters sprouting from thin air. Yet, it does rile up tension, and it is rewarding to land on the answers when they are finally revealed. Other times, however, it was too obvious. It seems it lacks a blend of both. When it reaches the climax, it skyrockets in intensity, almost unexpectedly, but with the humor that is peppered throughout, it flows nicely.
In terms of cinematography, shots were given proper attention. Framing was dialed in, and while a few editing cuts could be questioned, the camerawork was stellar. This was coupled with a subtle pan, confining angles, and some blurriness to contribute to the unsettling situations. Not to mention, the music, obscured beneath the tension, grapples on to weigh it down even more. It dragged us into the terror and it worked so well.
So, if I were to give a final opinion, I would need to mention the cohesive ideas that web it all together. Split, with its slight flaws, is thoughtful. While the premise could have been shallow, it delivers on it instead, as it accelerates into its closing scenes, where the intensity hits, and it borders on disturbing (that is, if it’s not already there). It can get inside your head, testing your limits, and I like that. Worthy of post-theater discussion, with its themes in consideration, and having an iconic antagonist, this is a watch for anyone who is after a slow-burning thriller with an unsettling twist. I recommend it for the horror lovers out there.
Written by Sean Chronister