|Posted by Nick Spake on January 20, 2017 at 3:25 PM|
Back when M. Night Shyamalan was on top of the world, seeing one of his movies felt like an eagerly awaited event. Between “Lady and the Water” and “After Earth,” however, Shyamalan became a walking punch line. So when “The Visit” came along a couple years ago, film fans went into the theater anticipating another cringe-fest. To the surprise of many, though, Shyamalan turned in an eerie, humorous, and well-acted thriller. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was the first time in years that people actually had fun at a Shyamalan movie.
If “Split” proves anything, it’s that “The Visit” wasn’t a fluke. This is another effective work of horror from Shyamalan, who’s officially back on the right track. Like his previous outing, “Split” doesn’t take itself too seriously. If anything, it’s incredibly self-aware. At the same time, Shyamalan and his performers create a genuinely haunting, uncomfortable atmosphere. It’s a film that constantly catches the audience off guard, reminding us why Shyamalan was once considered the next Alfred Hitchcock.
The film follows three high school girls named Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). In the middle of the day, these unsuspecting teenagers find themselves at the mercy of a creepy kidnapper, played by James McAvoy. They wake up in a mysterious room where escape appears futile. Their captor is eventually revealed to be Kevin Wendell Crumb, but he’s not alone. Kevn is living with dissociative identity disorder and has over 20 alternate personalities.
In “The Sixth Sense,” Shyamalan delivered quite possibly the greatest twist since “Psycho.” “Split” is kind of like Shyamalan’s love letter to “Psycho.” Where Norman Bates only had one alternate personality, though, Kevin has enough alters to fill an asylum. This includes a woman named Patricia, a nine-year-old boy named Hedwig, and a Beast that supposedly possesses supernatural powers. The film is a remarkable acting showcase for McAvoy, who easily could have come off as too over-the-top in this role. Yet, he finds the perfect balance with each of these personalities and is consistently menacing.
Aside from Anthony Perkins in “Psycho,” McAvoy also earns comparison to John Goodman’s character in “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Like Goodman, McAvoy delivers a portrayal that’s truly worthy of serious award recognition. Of course the Academy will probably never go for a performance like this. We additionally get strong work from Taylor-Joy, who broke out into stardom last year in “The Witch.” Taylor-Joy plays her part with just the right amount of strength and restraint, as if she’s Alice trying to survive an even more twisted version of Wonderland. Betty Buckley also deserves a shout out for her work as Kevin’s psychologist, who’ s starting to suspect her patient might be going off the deep end.
All the while, Shyamalan supplies thrills, chills, and even an applaud-worthy twist, which I won’t spoil here. With that said, “Split” isn’t perfect. It’s about twenty minutes too long and occasionally some of Shyamalan’s more annoying tendencies surface. The dialog can get pretentious at times and there are a couple deaths that come off as a little too silly. Every time the film begins to drag, however, Shyamalan hooks us right back in. It’s often believed that all artists go through peaks and valleys. In Shyamalan’s case, he’s experienced the highest of highest and the lowest of lows. For now, he’s at a solid middle ground that’ll do just fine.
Grade: 3.5 Out of 5 Stars