Dir: M. Night Shyamalan
Shyamalan has now made two movies in a row that while not perfect are certainly a vast improvement on his preceding creatively poor period. This especially has entertained and gripped me as the surprising director puts an exciting new spin on his trademark ‘twist’, ending the film by making me re-evaluate what I thought was a psychological / monster thriller in a completely different light.
A man with multiple distinct personalities (James McAvoy) kidnaps three girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Jessica Sula and Haley Lu Richardson), as another more horrific personality prepares to manifest itself.
The film’s main plot device, distinct multiple personalities, is completely put to the forefront and it’s a concept that requires fully distinguishable personas to be well conveyed by James McAvoy which he does surprisingly effectively. It’s a fantastical way of interpreting a real-life psychological condition, so shouldn’t be viewed as a depiction of mental health or care and by the end of the film you better understand that it’s being used as a device to tell a story that’s not aiming to portray someone with this condition as a monster, it’s really something more science fiction inspired than that.
However, one key gripe I have is that there it’s said he has 23 personalities, yet we see only half a dozen or so in any detail, so why not just state there are that many and let the audience get a better sense of seeing the complete range? It’s like making a film about a polygamist with 10 wives but only showing us 4 of them, we would still get the point that he has too many wives, so the mention of more that are never properly shown is a bit of a waste.
There’s an element of subtle misdirection and generic hybridity going on, with the first third fully resembling a kidnap thriller. Anya Taylor-Joy’s character Casey is the most interesting a developed of the three captured girls, the only one whose past is expounded much at all. Her complex history explains some things that may be important to understanding later developments, though some of it could have been more subtly hinted at rather than depicted as it was, a few scenes felt a little unnecessary, I got what it was telling us about the character, but other scenes had hinted just enough to read between the lines and I prefer films that make the audience put something together. I think if you edited those flashbacks down it would still convey the same backstory but credit viewers with some intelligence, as well as not drawing us into wanting more detailed resolution for her character later on.
The final scene ties the film and this character (or characters if you want) into a much bigger over-arching concept, one that really wasn’t necessary to make the film effective but it’s a concept that I very much like and tantalized me. It’s the kind of ending that makes you want to watch the film all over again with all that you now know because it puts things in a completely new light and changes everything.
Shyamalan’s next project is a sequel to ‘Unbreakable’, something I’m considerably excited about seeing as I love that film and it opens the door to so many possibilities that would work in the realm of a realistic super-powers concept. While it’s not a complete return to his best form, this is a conceptually strong film, continuing an exciting revival for the director who was once considered the new Hitchcock then shamed director-for-hire. He’s certainly got me back on side with this and I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what he does next as it has the potential to be some of his most interesting work in a long time.
‘Split’ is available on home media and VOD, worth a look if you like Shyamalan’s early work and are wanting to watch his revival. It is a film that will take on a whole new meaning on second viewing, and may reward rewatching again after his next film has been released.