Philadelphians have a very complicated relationship with the films of M. Night Shyamalan. While the director has remained local over the years continually featuring our city and using the surrounding areas as the settings, for a while there he was in a bit of a nasty slump. Much like Philly sports fans, Philly film fans can be pretty passionate, brutal even; but with that in mind it looks like Philadelphia’s favorite director is officially back with a great psychological horror film that features the patented M. Night twist.
Split is the story of a man (James McAvoy) who suffers from severe Dissociative Identity Disorder totaling altogether 23 different personalities. One of which kidnaps three young girls from the parking lot at the King of Prussia mall after a birthday party. The girls are taken to an underground bunker, meant to be a sacrifice of sorts to a mysterious 24th personality, which is referred to as simply ‘The Beast’ by the others. Through counseling sessions we are privy to enough exposition and scientific background to fill us in on the extreme possibilities of this condition. One of which is not only is the person capable of a mental change with extreme DID, but also possibly even a physical one as well with some personalities suffering from their own medical conditions.
So as the viewer you’re left wondering, what is this 24th personality? Does it even exist? Will these human sacrifices actually unlock another evolution for its host? Also is this all just some strange fabrication by a very disturbed mind? These are the questions that propel Split and its narrative and given M. Night’s reputation, it’s safe assume the rug could be pulled from underneath you at any time.
The story of Split is intriguing enough but its core is James McAvoy who disappears on screen in personality after personality. It’s his performance as everything from a flamboyant fashion designer to a 9-year-old boy all trapped in one body that truly root both the unsettling humor and horror to drive this story. His performance is echoed by Anya Taylor-Joy’s (The VVitch) Casey, his troubled captive, which we soon find has her own demons from her past to contend with. It’s this back and forth that really engages the viewer, as we are both horrified and fascinated by the cat and mouse game that plays out throughout the film as Casey begins to dissect the depth of her captor’s condition.
Without giving too much away story-wise, Split is a film that harkens back to some of M. Nights best. We have the hard science coupled with the hint of the fantastic as the viewer slowly digests the clues dropped by the director. Its that firm footing in reality that help give some of the stranger things in the film a bit more weight and believability than you would have with simply the concept alone. While I enjoyed Split, I have to say the one-two punch at the end is what made this film for me as we get a stinger for what is to come. It’s a very ambitious move, and one that completely changed my outlook on what M. Night does next.
Split is the film M. Night fans have been waiting for. While it is a bit longer than it probably should have been, it’s definitely worth checking out in theaters before you have the film’s twist spoiled. M. Night Shyamalan has finally redeemed himself and with a surprisingly clever psychological thriller that also solidifies Anya Taylor-Joy’s place as one of the new reigning queens of horror. Split has the director relying on his strengths with a solid mix of humor and scares that prove M. Night is officially back.