WE LOVED IT
Review by Paul Preston
M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film is a bonafide hit. Split is finding a big audience, but is the latest from the director of The Happening and After Earth worth the applause? The answer is a confident YES!
I risk repeating something I’m sure I said in my review of The Visit, but Shyamalan’s teaming with producer and low-budget horror king Jason Blum is the wisest move of his career. Shyamalan came onto the scene with The Sixth Sense and made a name for himself with clever scripts. His move to blockbuster fare like The Last Airbender turned him essentially into a director-for-hire, sacrificing everything that made him great. One too many failures on a big stage must’ve pushed him to the minimum-risk world of low budget films, where he fits in nicely.
The Visit cost $5 Million. Even if it earned $20 Million (what would be a paltry sum for a Marvel movie), The Visit is a big hit. It earned $98M. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so Night has teamed up with Blum again for Split, the story of Dennis (one thing you could call him), a man stricken with multiple personalities, all of whom are awaiting the arrival of the 24th personality…The Beast. The Beast promises bad things for the three girls Dennis has kidnapped. And yet, some of the personalities still leave the girls to regularly check in with a psychiatrist, played by Betty Buckley. The girls strike up relationships with all the personalities in an attempt to break free.
James McAvoy is remarkable as Dennis, fully committing to each personality and successfully making them unique. Buckley’s character claims that Dennis can alter his body chemistry to accommodate the various people who inhabit his mind, and McAvoy and Shyamalan pull that off effectively, too. Unstoppable on-the-rise talent Anya Taylor-Joy plays the outcast girl of the trio who does most of the plotting to put together an escape.
It’s easy to say that this movie marginalizes split personality disorder. Overall, movies have yet to offer up the story of the person with multiple personalities who saves the day or accomplishes remarkable things. I suppose there’s an interesting movie where Dr. Jekyll discovers a cure for ALS and Mr. Hyde becomes a civil rights champion. But if, for now, we have the disorder portrayed as something dangerous, Shyamalan does a lot with cramped interiors, clever dialogue and real suspense, ratcheted up with the Beast’s arrival.
The ending has a tag that accomplishes something that feels like should’ve been done a while ago involving the characters inhabiting Shyamalan’s world, invoking applause when I saw it. So, don’t leave early.