Going to the movies in the late 90s early 00s I had the distinct privilege of bearing witness to the rise and fall of M. Night Shyamalan. What began as a promising new talent in the realm of suspense thrillers became consumed by an ego inflated by the public’s reverence for his work. Whoever you choose to blame, the fact of the matter is M. Night made great films until he did not. Lady in the Water was the start for me and I gave up after The Happening. In recent years, however, Shyamalan appears to have learned from his mistakes and is trying to make amends, a quality not shared in directors. I skipped The Visit because I had my doubts, but Split inspired me to take the risk. Was it a worthwhile experience or is M. Night well and truly done for?
After getting kidnapped from the mall, three young girls wake up in a sealed bedroom. Their captor, played by James McAvoy, visits them periodically in different outfits, voices, and personalities as he prepares them for a mysterious climax.
My reason for seeing Split was McAvoy. He is one of the better character actors out there that does not get enough appreciation in my opinion. When put in a role, he does his best to become that character and pulls it off. It is a shame he is not in more movies, but I think I know why.
The best professionals in any career are always looking for a challenge. Whether to test their skills or to show off the size of their awesome-boner, these people pursue new opportunities beyond what they are used to. Split presented a great challenge for McAvoy where he had to play a total of seven people, four of which are dominant over the other three. He had to transform his entire performance between scenes where he adopted a different personality.
His character has an advanced form of DID where his body chemistry is dependent on whomever he is at the moment. One personality takes insulin, another is extremely OCD, and another has the intelligence of a nine year old. With each transformation McAvoy becomes that personality. He embodies their mannerisms and little quirks while injecting his inherent charisma. Beyond the display of skill, he is also very fun to watch. If anything, the best reason to see Split is McAvoy.
On the directing front M. Night appears to have gone back to his roots. The film is very small scale with locations you can count on one hand. A majority of the runtime takes place in McAvoy’s underground dungeon-home with tight spaces. The shots are very well framed with wide angles that present a faux openness while compounding the claustrophobia. There are also many close-ups that show off the actors’ expressions and help convey just how trapped they feel.
Obviously I do not want to give anything else away. Split is as much a fantastic suspense thriller as M. Night Shyamalan’s return to form. He has learned many lessons from his failures and made a movie that surpasses even his best work. Though the cinematography is near flawless and beautiful to behold, the performance by James McAvoy is brilliant. For whatever your reason or intention, you will find Split has a lot to offer. See it while you can.