Shyamalan Puts Original Twist on Classic Thriller Conventions in ‘Split’
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Night Shyamalan’s Split is a highly enjoyable, heart-pounding thriller with strong performances by James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy and an ending that establishes the film as one of the best of the year so far.
The movie follows three teenage girls, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), who are drugged and kidnapped by a man named Kevin (James McAvoy).
Upon waking up, the girls realize that they are being held captive in a basement of some sort, and that Kevin isn’t just Kevin; he also has 23 other people “living” inside him due to an extreme case of multiple personality disorder.
These personalities include Hedwig, a little boy who is bullied by all of the other personalities; Dennis, a sadistic, clean-cut man with a mean streak; and “The Beast”, a manifestation of all of the anger and wrath in Kevin, that can supposedly change his physical appearance.
The movie follows the girls’ efforts to escape from their living hell, as well as Kevin’s meeting with his psychologist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who is endlessly fascinated with multiple personality disorder but is completely unaware of what her star patient is doing away from her watch.
Dr. Fletcher hypothesizes that switching from personality to personality can change someone both physically and mentally, and she hopes to prove this in some way.
The acting in this film is excellent overall, but all the other characters play second fiddle to the excellent performances of McAvoy and Taylor-Joy.
McAvoy strikes the perfect balance between intimidating, tragic and downright hilarious with his portrayals of each of the personalities, of which only four or five are given significant screen time. He does an excellent job making us feel like each of these personalities are completely separate entities instead of just separate parts of Kevin’s fractured psyche.
McAvoy’s performance as Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy, really brings out the laughs. Hedwig is constantly scared of what the other personalities are going to do to him. He has a lisp and a penchant for dancing, which results in perhaps the funniest scene in the whole movie.
On the other end of the spectrum is McAvoy’s performance as Dennis: a cold, calculated, germophobic, perverted man. Dennis has a penchant for sick, twisted things, such as kidnapping teenage girls and forcing them to dance naked in front of him.
Taylor-Joy, whose character’s mysterious past unfolds gradually throughout the film via dreamt flashbacks, does a good job of portraying a tortured soul whose tormented history actually serves a purpose at the end.
The cinematography and pacing are also excellent. Shyamalan once again proves why he was once one of the big up-and-coming directors in Hollywood.
Throughout the film, we are told of a 24th personality, “The Beast”, which is said to be a manifestation of all the anger and horrible things inside Kevin’s brain. It can supposedly transform Kevin into a much stronger, more agile and terrifying version of himself, which both terrifies and fascinates Dr. Fletcher.
The ending at first seems pretty predictable, with a couple major revelations that you might expect from a mysterious thriller like this, but the last minute really elevates it from a good movie to a great one.
It is one of M. Night Shyamalan’s classic twist endings, linking the film to one of his classic films in a way that no one could ever see coming.
All in all, this film, after 2015’s criminally-underrated The Visit, has put Shyamalan back on the map, and has cemented him, again, as one of the most talented directors in Hollywood when it comes to making truly unique films.
I highly recommend that you check out this film while it’s still in theaters.
4 stars out of 5