Kevin has 23 distinct personalities. The 24th is about to be unleashed.
M. Night Shyamalan returns with his methodical brand of film making, following up his unsettling yet entertaining The Visit, with his latest feature Split.
Following a meal three teenage girls, Casey, Claire, and Marcia, are knocked unconscious and kidnapped by an unknown man while waiting to be driven home. After waking up the girls find themselves imprisoned in a room with two rickety beds and no clear means of escape. With no clear sense of why they’ve been taken or what their kidnapper wants, they soon discover he is no ordinary person. The man, whose birth name is Kevin, suffers from dissociative identity disorder with 23 distinct personalities inhabiting his body; each with different values, interests, and motives. There are some personalities that have undesirable intentions for the prisoners, whilst others may provide the girls an opportunity to escape. Unfortunately they have no idea who they’ll meet next, and some of the more devious personalities keep referring to an unseen violent personality known only as ‘The Beast’.
Much like the character of Kevin, M.Night Shyamalan has created an array of films with different personalities. Some are dramatic, some are darkly comic, and some are so appalling you’d never wish to see them again. Split though is a triumph. The film is also like the fractured personalities of Kevin, a body of work with multiple yet independent elements that when brought together create something wholly captivating. The lead element that will be talked about years from now is a legendary performance from James McAvoy, who tackles several different personalities brilliantly even weaving them together seamlessly for a climatic scene. It’s the type of performance that is a joy to behold. Anya Taylor-Joy continues her incredible rise from nowhere tackling the role of troubled outside Casey, but simply put McAvoy’s mesmerising performance’s overshadow the rest of the cast by country mile.
That being said there is an element of Split that though not immediately identifiable, is the most significant contributor to it’s success. That element is director and writer M. Night Shyamalan who like the personality known as ‘The Beast’ lies in wait for the perfect opportunity to make his presence felt. Until that defining moment he meticulously fleshes out the story in the background with a patiently paced trail of breadcrumbs, leading us on a road to something much more than you expected going in. Until the final payoff the style might feel a little slow; escape attempts are sporadic as running time is split with scenes of Kevin’s dominant personalities meeting with his psychologist, and flashbacks of Casey’s childhood. However it’s all for a good cause which becomes pleasantly apparent come the credit roll.
The brooding minimalist score reverberates nicely as the tension rises, but the champions of this film are McAvoy and Shyamalan. The latter appears to have used his horrifically rough patch of films (The Happening, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and After Earth) as a platform to evolve into a better storyteller, which is currently paying off in spades. If The Visit was M. Night Shyamalan’s comeback party, then Split is his return to prominence; a tense affair that’ll have you gripped till the end. We can’t wait to see where he goes from here.