Split, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is a thriller in which three teenage girls are kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy), a man afflicted by a multiple personality disorder (D.I.D). The girls must try to escape their part in drawing out Kevin’s 24th personality, named ‘The Beast’.
Movie Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)
Through Split, Shyamalan delivers his best work since Unbreakable. Split mixes the claustrophobia of Alien with the eeriness of Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill and his hellish home.
The brooding and detailed style displayed in Shyamalan’s Unbreakable has returned, seasoned by more economical cinematography that conjures dread, frustration, and more through the camera and the movie’s set. For example, when the girls arrive in Kevin’s lair, the camera runs along a tight corridor. The space shrinks further, squeezed by bundles of pipes adorning either side. We share the girls’ fear and confinement from the movement of a camera.
The cast is small, comprising of five regular characters. The film focuses upon Kevin (James McAvoy), one of his victims Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), and Kevin’s psychiatrist Karen (Betty Buckley).
Shyamalan exploits the confinements of Split‘s small budget to explore those characters through voyeuristic intimacy. The camera focuses upon the trio, imposing their faces onto the screen.We observe every slight emotion and cue, revealing how the three are linked through family and trauma.
Through the camera’s voyeurism, spliced with seamless flashbacks, Shyamalan excels in showing how alike Kevin and Casey are. Trauma has made them stronger, but along very different roads.
Shyamalan follows Hitchcock’s revelation and denial of information to enrapture the audience. He laces Split with glimmers of hidden details. These clues are not red herrings, but instead form questions about Kevin and the other characters, lending an excellent pace to the plot.
McAvoy is compelling as Kevin, flitting between a handful of 24 personas. Occasionally McAvoy’s voice acting falters, reverting to a dulcet Scottish. However, his best performance is given when depicting one identity masquerading as another. Often he infuses these identities with a dash of humour, bringing levity to the more menacing characters. The darker personas even attract sympathy, as McAvoy depicts their internal struggles, suggesting who they represent to Kevin’s shattered ego.
Split is a showcase for McAvoy talents, and an advert for Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, Kevin’s counterpoint. Taylor-Joy convincingly shows Casey turn her suffering into a will to survive. I have not seen an actress convey so convincingly such a range of emotion through her facial expressions alone. I am excited to see Taylor-Joy’s talent grow over the coming years.
The end does provide a satisfying arc to the story, completing the little questions aside the main mystery. However, the final act does buckle under its own momentum, especially when Split strays into elements of horror. The arrival of Kevin’s 24th personality is Split‘s best part, mirroring the theme of ‘becoming’ which pervades the Hannibal show and Hannibal films. The Beast initially appears in flickers, obscured by the shadows, running towards his prey. This is how The Beast should have remained, like a monster lurking in the dark until it strikes. Shyamalan reveals The Beast completely, weakening the character’s menace.
Target audience: Disillusioned Shyamalan fans, and anyone looking for a great thriller.
For the trailer, see below.
By Saul Shimmin