Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson
Release Date: January 20th, 2017
M. Night Shyamalan has delivered once again and now Split, the director’s return to form, has finally arrived on Blu-Ray and DVD. After a cinematic slump that included The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth, the writer/director has been quickly rebuilding his resume. Devil (2010), which he wrote the story for and produced, was a solid success story and The Visit (2015) was a surprise hit two years ago. Neither of those films featured many well-known but were strong endeavors.
Split is a change of pace from those movies. Its star is James McAvoy, an actor best known as Professor Xavier in the latest X-Men films. The new feature relies on McAvoy’s performance (and does he deliver!) but this is no traditional star vehicle.
McAvoy plays a loner named Kevin who has multiple personalities. Each of his personalities is unique and complex. Barry, one of the most powerful personalities, is accustomed to deciding which personality temporarily takes over Kevin’s body. When a personality is in the light (as the scrip suggests), Kevin takes the traits of that character. From the psychotic Dennis to the innocent-seeming Hedwig (a nine-year-old boy), Kevin’s body transforms from one personality into the next.
The main outside influence in Kevin’s life is Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), a psychiatrist who has learned how to manage many of Kevin’s personalities although she hasn’t met all 24 of them.
In the feature’s opening moments, Kevin kidnaps three young woman. Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) are close friends while Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) — the third victim — is an outcast.
For most of the film, M. Night Shyamalan focuses on these three victims as they struggle to understand Kevin. There’s a feeling of dread that pervades their prison cell as they — and the audience — try to understand who Kevin is and why he acts so strangely. The script hints at the approaching darkness, which is a dreaded personality nicknamed The Beast which may or may not exist.
“He’s coming for you,” Hedwig tells the hostages.
One of the film’s greatest assets though is Dr. Fletcher, whose scenes with Kevin are especially informative. Those scenes are a particular highlight as they reveal how Kevin manages to survive in the real world, despite the feuding personalities within him. Shyamalan includes some pivotal scenes where Fletcher talks about Kevin’s disease and brings increased depth to it. These sequences are informative without weighing down the plot.
Kevin is clearly the villain here but the script gives his character enough back story for him to be one that is more complicated than a typical kidnapper. At the same time he’s psychotically holding three woman captive, Kevin is battling his inner demons and the struggle for him to suppress his worst instincts/personalities shows that M. Night Shyamalan is more interested in telling a character-driven story than one would at first suspect.
The final act of the feature reveals the truth about the Beast and brings the story to a great conclusion, where so many of the feature’s disparate elements (which include flashbacks to Casey’s past experiences with abuse) come together nicely. Viewers expecting a major surprise might be disappointed but on a second viewing, the final sequence stands out as something more than traditional twist. It’s deeper than that. Split is a smart thriller that is more interested in provocative ideas than it is in simply scaring the audience and it’s one of the reasons this thriller stands out so strikingly in Shyamalan’s canon.
Split is now available on Blu-Ray and can be purchased here.
Review by: John Hanlon