So I watched Split…
I’m actually really enjoying the work of M. Night Shyamalan recently. I thought The Visit was absolutely brilliant and a real return to form after a string of disappointing efforts. So I went into this film with real excitement and intrigue, and although the film’s ‘big twist’ had been spoiled for me, I still highly enjoyed it.
Okay, basic plot: Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy) is a man with dissociative identity disorder. This rare psychiatric condition means that Kevin lives with multiple personalities in his body – 23, to be exact. These personalities fight for control of Kevin’s body with some being violent and truly terrifying. Three personalities conspire to bring forth a new, all-powerful personality called ‘The Beast’. In order to bring The Beast forth, a sacrifice is required. A sacrifice of three teenage girls including Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) – a girl who’s no stranger to pain and suffering.
I think M. Night Shyamalan is one of the best directors working today. I’m on record as saying that directors who have a hand in their film’s script are truly the best kind of directors. Shyamalan has such an interesting way of viewing things and structuring his stories. Let’s forget about After Earth and The Last Airbender and while we’re at it The Happening; his work has this amazing ability to infuse the mystical into reality. I admit that I haven’t watched all of his films but those that I have watched (which were good) take fantasy and pair it so well with logic that you can’t tell the difference between the two. I think when you can invest not only your emotion but also your belief in a film, that’s when it becomes all the more engaging.
Split is a great example of M. Night Shyamalan-ian storytelling but it would have fallen completely flat without the limitless talent of James McAvoy. Whenever you hear an actor speak about their preparation for a role it sounds intense and time-consuming, so I don’t even want to imagine what McAvoy had to do to get into the mind of twenty-three characters. We don’t actually see all twenty-three personalities, in the end we see about six or seven; but of those we do see, each of them is distinct, each of them (pardon the pun) has their own personality and each is memorable. This isn’t some slapdash performance put together at the last minute, this is a considered and measured thespian extravaganza.
On the face of it, it seems simple. When you imagine a person with multiple personalities, you imagine elaborate gestures that will distinguish the different characters. The brilliance of McAvoy’s performance, however, is in the nuanced idiosyncrasies that he imparts every character with. I’ve always believed that great acting is all about subtlety. A great actor, one who has mastered his craft can stand perfectly still and convey endless streams of information about their character. McAvoy does the simple things well and this gives him the perfect platform from which to leap off for the grander, more demonstrative scenes. His ability to invoke different emotions in me within seconds highlights how believable his performance is. It is pure brilliance!
Along for the ride is Anya Taylor-Joy who I thought was the unsung hero of this film. When we’re first introduced to her character – Casey – it’s made clear that she’s a bit of a social outcast. Not to get into spoilers but even her initial reaction to being abducted isn’t in line with what you’d expect. As the film progresses and the layers of her character are pulled back, it becomes clear that this isn’t Casey’s first run-in with mental illness. Taylor-Joy gives a wonderfully understated and measured performance. Once again, the beauty of her performance lies in her ability to do the little things well. She’s a perfect foil to the quirky and diverse performance that McAvoy delivers.
Returning to M. Night Shyamalan, he not only crafts an engaging and truly frightening script, he also does fantastic work in the director’s chair. His choice of camera angles and camera movements often transport you from observer in front of a screen to observer in the actual film. The use of point of view shots helps bring you into the movie. Shyamalan also avoids cheap jump-scares and creates a film whose horror and terror derives from its characters and story.
Now the big twist in this film is that Split is actually a sequel to a previous film of Shyamalan’s (I won’t say which, watch it and find out). Now sequels are nothing of a surprise in today’s world of film nor are films with shared universes. What is a surprise is when a film is marketed as a standalone, written and shot as a standalone AND then has a skillfully inserted ending which links it to other work. In case you haven’t noticed, what I loved about this film is its subtlety. There’s a real sense of finesse throughout this film and big studios like Marvel and DC could learn a thing or two about how to make a superhero universe from Shyamalan.
Overall, Split is as terrifying to watch as it is fun. McAvoy is larger-than-life and Shyamalan keeps getting better and better. This is definitely one to watch. 8/10