At the beginning of September in 2015, I was heading into the new Blumhouse production -The Visit – and I was less than enthused. The film was the new self-funded project from M. Night Shyamalan, a writer and director who first garnered interest with his mystery, The Sixth Sense. His later films Unbreakable and Signs would ensnare me but the last couple of movies he had made, the Happening and The Last Airbender, were such assaults on my cinematic mind that I tossed this filmmaker in a bin marked “expired.” I was convinced that he had nothing left and would continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel. The Visit changed my mind, a fun and self-acknowledging film, it was my top surprise like of that year. Even beyond that, it refreshed my curiosity for what Shyamalan could create and left me wanting for his next film, which is now here.
Split is a complex film that begins with a man abducting three teenage girls from a mall parking lot. Once they wake in a locked room they get a look at their captor, “Dennis,” a bespectacled man with a shaved head and an obsession for cleanliness. This isn’t the only one who has kidnapped the girls, as they meet a woman named Patricia, as well as a nine-year-old boy named Hedwig but the Shyamalan twist is that they are all personalities within the same man, twenty-three different ones but we only see a handful. In order to survive, the more outsider of the three girls, Casey (The Witch’s Anya Talor-Joy), tries to play some of the personalities against each other, hoping to fracture the mindsets into a mistake. Little do any of them know that a twenty-fourth personality is waiting to emerge, known only as the Beast.
Let’s get this out in the open right now, James McAvoy is the ultimate draw of this movie. His seamless switch between personalities is absolutely chilling but also entices some nervous comedy as well. Dennis is obsessive, Patricia is prim, proper and meticulous and Hedwig is, well, a young boy who wants to impress the stronger personalities but also wants the envy of those he’s keeping captive. Against Taylor-Joy’s wide-eyed porcelain doll, McAvoy is always a formidable foe that makes the girls efforts feel a bit fruitless, adding to the tension for the audience.
As great as McAvoy is leading this movie, M. Night Shyamalan’s plotting and story tries to equal his star on every level before starting to lose the neck in neck race just before the last act of the film. In a way Tom Hardy was too big for his twin feature Legend, McAvoy seems too much for the writer and director to handle. All of McAvoy’s lines are brilliantly complex and interesting which, in comparison, makes everyone else’s lines horribly dumbed down and ridiculously exposition filled. I will say that as lukewarm as I felt about the film through to its ending, the real Shyamalan twist comes in a short scene just before the credits and I can’t even begin to tell you what that was all about because of massive spoilers. I will conclude by pleading with Blumhouse and Universal Pictures to continue with this thread they’ve pulled. This could be amazing. 3.5/5