Split is a massive triumph.
By Jak Luke Sharp
As a fan of M. Night Shyamalan, it is fair to say that after his first four original and well-received films, The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), and The Village (2004), expectations for the films that followed were incredibly high. Though the decade that followed was not particularly kind to Shyamalan’s career, where he released a string of poorly received films, that began with the often overlooked Lady in the Water (2006) and the hilarious unintended comedy, The Happening (2008). Shyamalan turned his focus to franchises, beginning with The Last Airbender (2010) and the critically slaughtered After Earth (2013), not necessarily both complete faults by Shyamalan, but both had overwhelming negative responses so he turned back to original features with the comedy horror hybrid, The Visit (2014). Perhaps not the greatest film he has produced, unfortunately plagued with the overused found footage cliché, though it does show signs (no pun intended) of what made Shyamalan great ten years before it. Two years later and he is back with an original film, Split, and it is a massive triumph.
Split follows three girls played by the magnificent Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula who are kidnapped by a man diagnosed with twenty-three distinctive personality traits, all played by the phenomenal James McAvoy. To reveal anything more about the plot would be a complete injustice to what the film is about, and would foil the incredible suspense nature of the film. McAvoy’s performance pulls you through all sorts of emotions, showcasing mind-blowing multiple performances, making it look a breeze. Every single personality looks and is crafted and performed so uniquely and to a staggering emotional depth – every personality is real as a character. His performance accentuates the film’s tense atmosphere due to the unknowingly distraught personality showcased next on screen, it could either make you laugh or cry in fear and that is incredibly powerful.
Out of the three teenagers taken, it is primarily Taylor-Joy who has the most (if all the significant) amount of depth. Her character, while perhaps not the strongest physically, is by far the strongest mentally and her performance is fantastic. Taylor-Joy showcased just how good she was in The Witch (2016), yet in Split, she eclipses any role to date with just the sheer raw performance that portrays a character in a state of a constant nightmare. She is brilliant. As are Richardson and Sula, but they lack depth and character compared to Taylor-Joy. That is not to say that both characters are redundant because, without a shadow of a doubt, they add to the terror and hell the trio are locked in.
Split is a haunting and terrifying thriller with a phenomenal central performance from McAvoy, which hopefully gains him tremendous recognition as a truly wonderful actor. However, nothing can prepare anyone for Shyamalan’s last killing blow. The final scene left me utterly speechless. It may perhaps go over a lot of the audience’s heads but the words that came to mind were: “Oh my god!”. Something that does not happen very often.