Image Credit: Universal Pictures
M Night Shyamalan needed an anecdote to help revitalize his career, he made progress with last year’s surprisingly twisty “The Visit,” and the more than exceptional tv series “Wayward Pines.” His newest film, “Split” is a welcome return to his original form, and is a worthy extension of his earlier work we came to appreciate. He has instilled his roots, after a long line of painful disappointments (“The Last Airbender” anyone?), that he had once forgotten: fun
The idea of multiple personality disorders, or amnesia are horrors for anyone that has to deal with them on a regular basis. But, for Hollywood screenwriters, they couldn’t be more of a gift in regards to a mind-bending thriller. “Split” is a combination of ridiculous and over the top, because, in true Shyamalan style, he can’t resist pumping his screenplay with a little too much mythology and exposition, and the overall product lacks a definitive twist that help made “The Visit” or his earlier works like “The Sixth Sense” stand out. However, the movie does end with a HUGE nod and reference to one of Shyamalan’s best films, but if you didn’t see that movie, chances are it will go over your head.
From an acting standpoint alone, it’s a tremendous challenge to ask someone to take on such a pivotal screen role which requires them to inhabit 23 different characters, with the ability to shift in and out of them like clockwork. Luckily, the writers tapped James McAvoy, and boy does he get the job done. He plays Kevin, a disturbed young man who keeps his head closely shaved and his collared shirts button in a precise fashion. Kevin lives by himself in a windowless underground bunker, the scene of which could be used in a “Saw” movie. Kevin lives alone, but he isn’t lonely: he has 23 distinct personalities to keep him company, including Patricia, an old-fashion, English God loving woman with a fondness for turtlenecks; Hedwig, a lisping 9 year old that enjoys walkie talkies, frequents Kanye West dance impersonations,and loves to say the word etcetera: and Barry, a flamboyant fashion designer. He also has an endearing therapist (Betty Buckley) that understands his dissociative identity disorder,
Fortunately, for three young girls that were recently snatached (Anya Taylor Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) and taken away to Kevin’s hideaway, they might not get the mercy some of his other personalities might grant. Including a Mr Dennis, that got in trouble because he likes to see girls dance naked, but Patricia would be quick to tell them “he is not allowed to touch them.” The levels are what’s important here, as Shyamalan allows his muse to tell the narrative. Like how there is potential for a 24th personality to be brought, as Kevin’s friends would say, “into the light” (which is a term used when we see that character take over Kevin’s body).
Easily the best decision of the movie is McAvoy, who, if any other year, might have gotten some award buzz for his work. And if not for the movie falling over the rails towards the ending with a bunch of ideas that, itself, never manifest, “Split” would be in the running. Perhaps that was the direction Shyamalan was going for, a set-up for what is still left to come. Safe to say, the man is slowly garnering back his once loyal fan base that he lost, and his name above a movie title is starting to mean something again. B