Even with the Super Bowl stealing the small screen limelight for the majority of last week, director M. Night Shyamalan’s Split has spent its third weekend at the US Box Office #1. Renowned for his stupefying thrillers to the likes of 1999’s The Sixth Sense and the 2002’s Signs, Shyamalan is back with a film so disturbingly intense, you’ll need a moment to let it all sink in before you leave the cinema.
Brought to life masterfully by James McAvoy (X-Men series, Wanted), Kevin Wendell Crumb is a man with severe ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’ – a man with twenty-three personalities. Viewers are guided through the complexities of the disorder by Doctor Fletcher (Betty Buckley), Kevin’s psychiatrist and avid believer in the disorder’s potential to enhance human capabilities. Despite her sceptical critiques, Doctor Fletcher is a firm believer in her studies and is the break between the more unnerving aspects of the film.
It may appear as the classic “kidnapped-victims-try-and-escape-scary-dude” plot-line, but Shyamalan has taken this and transformed it into a genuinely chilling film. Viewers jump right into it with the kidnapping of birthday girl Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), friend Marcia (Jessica Sula), and labelled “mercy invite” Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). “Dennis”, the kidnapper is just one of the known twenty-three personalities overcrowding Kevin’s mind. Without delving too much into the plot, the trio witness firsthand the “alters” including the matriarchal “Miss Patricia” and the obsessively clean “Dennis”, both of which appear to have taken “light” over the other personalities. Ever so foreboding throughout, the duo continually refer to the coming of a “The Beast”; a brand new twenty-fourth personality hellbent on cannibalism but with a specific taste for innocent flesh.
With his location unknown to the audience, viewers are treated to a bleak and incredibly eerie underground labyrinth that’ll create a very claustrophobic vibe in an already dark cinema. This coupled with an equally spine-chilling soundtrack by West Dylan Thordson, and when combined with cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, delivers what you’d expect from a Shyamalan thriller.
What makes Split so terrifyingly good is James McAvoy’s performance; a testament to just how dedicated he was to his characters. It is hard to imagine how anybody else less alluring could convince viewers of the sudden shift between an impressionable nine-year-old boy to the overbearing middle-aged woman. Most enthralling were the little twists in facial expression that would smooth over the features of an overexcited child to the rigid lines of “Dennis”, the kidnapper. Credit must also be given to Anya Taylor-Joy and her excellent portrayal of the deeply mysterious Casey. After her equally superb work in the 2015 horror film The Witch, Taylor-Joy has again cemented her place as a fresh talent with her masterful balance between vulnerability and cunning sparks of survival when most needed. Taylor-Joy is a standout within her trio with her numerous layers both figuratively and literally.
After being dragged through the mud following the release of After Earth and The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan can finally say he is back at what he does best.