Night Shyamalan’s career started off like a charcoal grill. Initially the flames were bright and slowly turned to embers into a pile of ash. His last several films, with the Visit as a mild improvement, have been pretty rough. Split, his latest effort, has restored the spark that many thought had burnt out long ago.
Split seems to have found Shyamalan’s earlier identity
The film features two extremely impressive performances that will likely be career defining for one and career heightening for the other. Anya Taylor-Joy, seen earlier this year in The Witch and Morgan, plays Casey Cooke who is abducted by Dennis, played by James McAvoy, with two of her “friends”. The emotion she displays throughout the film is impressive and really helps earn sympathy from the audience. Shyamalan’s choice, while initially questionable, to use flashbacks that seem random tell more of Casey’s world. It definitely adds to the sympathy and encourages the suspense he is trying to build.
McAvoy shines as he plays eight different character, some much more than other, that are so distinctly different it could have probably been different actors. Unlike other actors, like Michael J. Fox, Michael Myers, or Eddie Murphy, who have dabbled with multiple roles in a film, McAvoy only has his acting and minimum costume changes to sell each one. There are no heavy prosthetics or makeup to help sell the change in persona, but only his mannerisms and voice. His performance definitely made the film a stand-out.
Does it feel like old school Shyamalan?
The question most people are asking about this film is likely about Shyamalan’s signature “twist”. He definitely leaves his mark on this film, and fans of his earlier work will likely release a sigh of relief as the credits begin to role. The film was satisfying and the message that was extracted from it was an interesting one.
Dennis, or whichever personality chosen to refer to McAvoy’s character, suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. According to WebMD, DID is “likely caused by many factors, including severe trauma during early childhood.” This idea of trauma leading to such a fractured existence is explored in the film quite nicely. Ultimately, the message seems to be that these traumas don’t make a person weak, but rather make them exceptional. It’s a positive message inside an interesting film.
Split will likely have a similar effect on its audience. Some will likely find elements silly and maybe even unsatisfying. However, there is a lot to appreciate in this film and it’s definitely closer to Shyamalan’s earlier style. Hopefully, there will be more from him like this in the future. Split earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.