Split: The Shyamalan is Back, Baby!

Written by Tommy Tracy

Split Plot Summary:

A man suffering from multiple personalities abducts three high school girls for a sacrifice. As they devise a plan to escape, he releases the personalities and all hell breaks loose.

Night Shyamalan is one of the most polarizing figures in film. Once touted as the “next Spielberg” (I kid you not), Shyamalan has had the highest highs and the lowest lows in Hollywood. He became a running joke (“What a twist!”), and every new film since Lady in the Water was met with ridicule. Yet in 2015, Shyamalan released The Visit and people began to prematurely say, “HE’S BACK!” While The Visit was decent, one good film does not a comeback make. But this review is not about Lady in the Water, The Visit and it sure as hell isn’t about The Happening (had to get that dig in there). It’s about Split. And you know what? HE’S BACK!

Shyamalan is back to form, crafting a film so intricate and creepy, it leaves the audience on the edge of their seats. Even though the trailer gives away the beginning of the film, Shyamalan directs it so well that it makes your heart pound. Kevin’s (James McAvoy) abduction of Cassie (Anya-Taylor Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) is so terrifying that you forget the film is about them dealing with this man. It didn’t dawn on me they weren’t dead until minutes later.

The way this man (and sometimes lady) talks to these girls is horrifying, as they wonder what the hell is wrong with him. Johnson plays her character so well; flashing back to her damaged childhood and making the viewer wonder if this is actually the worst thing to ever happen to her. As seen in The Witch, Johnson’s acting is subtle; you feel her fear and know her pain just from her facial expressions.

McAvoy, however, is the true standout of the film, and it’s well deserved. I called him Dennis earlier, but McAvoy also portrays Dennis (the psychopath), Ms. Patricia (the motherly figure), Barry (the fashion lover) and, best of all, Hedwig, the nine-year-old boy trapped in a man’s body. Not making sense? Well, Kevin is suffering from 23 different personalities in his head, all aiming to take control of the host body. Though we don’t meet all of them, the few we do see are all different, in the best ways possible. McAvoy is terrifying as Dennis, yet loveable and sympathetic as Barry. It’s his take on Hedwig that is truly phenomenal though. Hedwig has mental issues and is taken advantage of by the girls, and you actually feel BAD for him. This is all down to McAvoy, making you love and despise him at the same time.

So naturally, this is a Shyamalan feature and there is a twist. The twist here deals with The Beast, the animal that a select few of Kevin’s personalities want to bring to fruition. Much of the film focuses on whether or not The Beast is real or not, and the personalities begin to fight for control of the body. Naturally, everything starts to come together at the end, when Kevin’s therapist (Betty Buckley) starts to physically investigate. Again, is The Beast real or not? Well, you’ll have to see it to find out and take the journey.

The major problems consist of the aforementioned Buckley, who is known for the crazy old lady from The Happening. She tries too hard to make the audience (and Kevin) believe that this is a healthy man. He’s not. We know it and her arc takes little effect on the third act of the story. I also wasn’t a big fan of the cinematography, which is a shame, because Mike Gioulakis shot the incredibly creepy It Follows. Split just looks really dank and drab and that’s the fault of the camera work.

Split is fantastic, a true psychological thriller sure to make one think and feel fear at the same time. McAvoy is incredible and deserves all the praise he’s already gotten and will be getting. Shyamalan should have been writing films like this instead of ruining all our lives with After Earth.

Final Grade: 8/10

P.S. Stay for the mid-credits. Best ending to a Shyamalan film…EVER!

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