Review by J.T. Johnson
It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to recommend a film from director M. Night Shyamalan. At first, he started off so well with the smash hit “The Sixth Sense”, the cult film “Unbreakable”, and “Signs”, the last good Mel Gibson movie. Then, he fell off the radar with heavy misses such as “The Village”, “The Last Airbender”, and “The Happening”.
Thankfully, “Split” continues a true return to form for Shyamalan after 2015’s “The Visit” and this is thanks mostly to the acting talents of James McAvoy. The story begins with three girls getting abducted by a mysterious man (McAvoy), but the girls soon learn that Kevin has 23 distinct personalities. Three of those personalities are trying prepare the girls for the arrival of the 24th personality, known only as “The Beast”.
Without McAvoy confidently stepping into the multiple roles, the movie just would not work. Now, while you do get a taste of several personalities, McAvoy plays three personalities predominantly. There is Dennis, the strongest of the personalities that always feels he has to protect Kevin, the main personality. Then there is Patricia, a motherly figure who is helping bring about the Beast’s arrival by taking care of the girls.
When a personality wants to take over, they step into the “light”. In order for Dennis and Patricia to do this and keep the other personalities at bay, they must also enlist 9-year-old Hedwig because he apparently controls the light. While they are preparing for the Beast, the three girls have to try desperately to escape.
Of the three girls, Casey Cook (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the true standout. She is the outsider compared to the two other girls and it quickly becomes apparent that Casey is the main character here. This is especially true since we have flashbacks with the character establishing more about her than we do the other two girls.
In a weird way, once Casey realizes what is happening with Kevin, she relates to him on a certain level. I wish the film had explored more of this theme, but we’re being interrupted by the fact that she is still a captive and really just wants to get the hell away from Kevin. Due to the focus on Casey, I must admit that I didn’t really connect with the other two girls beyond wanting to see them escape their desperate situation.
The movie is not completely without its faults. While there are way more scenes that I think are intentionally funny, there were a couple where I wasn’t quite sure if the audience was supposed to be laughing. To this, I can only say that you should just nervously chuckle and move on.
Also, the first part of the movie can drag at times before the ball really gets rolling with the story. Thankfully, by the end of it you’re hooked and you are glad that you stuck around for the ride. It definitely helps that the ending is particularly good.
While Shyamalan could have done without a couple of scenes and a couple of unintentional laughs, “Split” continues to revitalize a director that was once compared to the great Alfred Hitchcock. I hope he doesn’t waste this opportunity in the future.
P.S. – ABOUT THAT ENDING (SPOILER ALERT)
The movie itself is largely self-contained and when the “SPLIT” title card hits the screen, the main story is over. However, one last scene plays in a diner where people are watching the news about what has just happened. One of the customers mentions that this was similar to the time they caught a guy in a wheelchair.
When she tries to remember the man’s name, Bruce Willis as David Dunn appears to reveal the name “Mr. Glass”. There were several people not in the know when this scene played and they were confused as hell. To clear up this confusion for the uninitiated, David is the main character from “Unbreakable” and Mr. Glass was his ultimate villain, thus “Split” is the second film in the “Unbreakable” series.
While others were confused, I was excited to see this scene as “Unbreakable” is my favorite of Shyamalan’s films.