Runtime: 117 minutes
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Let’s discuss M. Night Shyamalan. Throughout the years, the director’s reputation has fluctuated from up and coming genius to bitter disappointment, hitting rock bottom at what some would describe the laughably terrible. I would say that your experience of Split is beholden to your knowledge of the auteur’s career. Do you miss Shyamalan’s ‘good old days’, where his signature plot twists made entire cinemas gasp in gleeful surprise? Have you lost hope in his talents, after a string of terribly received box-office bombs? Either way, Split surprises the most avid of Shyamalan watchers, presenting a well-made thriller, indistinguishable from the director’s latest fair.
Split centres around three teenage girls who find themselves kidnapped by Kevin Wendall Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with twenty-three different personalities. From the staunch, hygienic Derek to a rebellious nine-year-old named Hedwig, the girls must attempt to navigate his personalities and find their way home. The plot to this film is remarkably simple—girls get kidnapped, girls try to escape, the kidnapper is angry, and the stakes get higher. In regards to the plot, it was very surprising how predictable a lot of it was. I found myself waiting for my Shyamalan ‘twist’, and was presented with a straightforward thriller. However, this in itself was a breath of fresh air. While there is a sizeable twist, one that the mere mention of will bring us into spoiler territory, the majority of the film is spent telling a rather simple story. By holding back on the narrative curveballs, Shyamalan has allowed the film to breathe—allowing his direction, and McAvoy’s performance, to shine in centre stage.
Surprisingly, Shyamalan’s direction is extremely impressive in this film. Every frame of this film felt like it has a reason, and this allows for some genuinely suspenseful moments. In a film such as this, less is more, and Shyamalan uses the stillness of the camera as a vehicle to present genuine emotion. However, the real star of the show is James McAvoy’s performance. While menacing, McAvoy gives the character certain likeability and does a fantastic job of selling each persona. No personality feels like a caricature, and this goes a long way in cementing the likability of this film.
It is important to understand that this film is, by no means, without fault. Some of the ideas in the film move into ridiculous territory when expanded upon, and the plot, in parts, does get a little too predictable. I have asked myself whether my positivity towards this film comes from how little I expected a Shyamalan film to succeed in recent years. I must admit, my low expectations did make Split a more enjoyable flick. In honesty, this film is a straight thriller—albeit a good one. If you want something to entertain you for a couple of hours, then Split is an interesting, entertaining release. Only time will tell if this is an indication of higher quality Shyamalan films to come.