If it was possible to distil everything I hate about movies into one word, it would be this:
I hate horror films with a passion. I find them formulaic, boring and, for the love of God, how many times can we watch a teenage girl in a skimpy top run down a corridor?!?
When you add the fact that Split was directed by M Night Shyamalan, a man whose career pretty much spiralled off a cliff after the release of 2004’s The Village; it seemed that Split would be one to miss.
However, on finding out James McAvoy would be starring, I seriously reconsidered. McAvoy has always been one to watch for me as I’ve always been impressed by his refusal to go completely “Hollywood.” Ignoring his portrayal of Charles Xavier, McAvoy always seems to seek out small, interesting projects such as Filth or Trance.
Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a joyless introvert, content only to spend time by her lonesome. Not even an invite to Claire’s (Haley Lu Richardson) birthday party is enough to bring her out of her shell. Along with another friend, Marcia (Jessica Sula), the trio are about to head home when they suddenly become the victims of a merciless kidnapping.
The trio wake up to find themselves the prisoners of “Kevin” (James McAvoy). But it is soon revealed that Kevin suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID); and randomly switches between each of his 23 alternate personalities. Thus Casey and her two friends must keep their wits together and try to outsmart one of the personalities in order to gain their freedom.
While Shyamalan may have spent the last 10 or so years out in the Hollywood wilderness, in Split he makes a magnificent return to form. With a strong directorial hand, he crafts a strong sense of suspense whilst effectively using the geography of the location to add to the claustrophobic atmosphere.
With that same hand, Shyamalan manages to coax out some incredible performances from his two leads. In the case of McAvoy, it’s obvious he’ll end up receiving most of the praise (and deservedly so). With every glance and mutter, McAvoy switches effectively between childish innocence and terrifying beast.
But his co-star’s performance is not to be sniffed at. The portrayal of damaged innocence is a difficult attribute to pull off, but Taylor-Joy fully rises to the challenge. Building on the great performances she gave in Morgan and The Witch, Taylor-Joy helps draw us into the desperation of her situation; and when interacting with McAvoy, strongly contributes to some of the film’s most effective scenes.
Admittedly, because of the focus on McAvoy and Taylor-Joy, the other two girls are reduced to whimpering Scream Queens. Fortunately a decent chuck of the film is dedicated to Kevin’s psychiatrist (Betty Buckley), meaning Taylor-Joy isn’t left to be the film’s only developed female character.
While McAvoy’s performance is stunning, I did find that the film preferred to talk about his greater crimes, as opposed to showing us them. While not a terrible choice, a few more visual examples would not have gone amiss.
Though I’m aware that the biggest criticism this film will receive is its grossly unrealistic portrayal of DID, and whilst the film isn’t as effective as 10 Cloverfield Lane; it’s clear to me that Shyamalan has created a film that should be considered in the top tier of his work. Along with Mel Gibson, he deserves to be let out of the Hollywood doghouse in 2017.