“Split” Movie Review: A Shyamalan Revival

“Don’t worry. He’s not allowed to touch you. He knows what you’re here for. He listens to me.”- Kevin (Patricia)

For those who have not given up on M. Night Shyamalan after the great disappointments that were The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), and After Earth (2013), your wish of a satisfying and psychologically disturbing “Shyamalan” thriller has come to pass.

Shyamalan proved to the world that his successfully sinister 2015 film The Visit was not sheer dumb luck. Split will sate not only Shyamalan fans, but also those who appreciate the art of chilling suspense and psychological warfare.

This is no mere abduction film. Three girls, Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire Benoit (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula) are captured in broad daylight by a man played by James McAvoy. Unlike most captors in abduction films, this one is unaware of his actions, for he suffers from dissociative identity disorder, possessing 23 distinct personalities within himself. In order to escape the windowless rooms and hallways, the girls must find a personality that can help them while staying alive from the more malevolent ones.

James McAvoy deserves recognition, for he is a phenomenal actor and he is not afraid to show it in Split. Not every actor can play multiple roles in a film. McAvoy successfully plays several distinctive characters, for these “personalities” are not simply personalities. The identities that possess the man’s body are fleshed out people with different facial tics, mannerisms, talents, and body language. McAvoy effortlessly demonstrates the abruptness of an identity switch, which not only adds to the disturbing nature of the film, but also educates the audience by providing an accurate interpretation of what a sufferer of this particular disorder goes through. No special effects needed.

Another great aspect of the film came from its musical score. Composed by West Dylan Thordson, the music reflects the unhinged atmosphere and the circumstance that the girls find themselves in. The music only adds to the feeling of paranoia and mental trauma. Moviegoers will feel on edge, mentally affected by the eye-twitching squeaks and the repetitive pull of guitar strings.

Shyamalan knows when to appropriately use sound and when not to use it. Silence greatly compliments the more menacing scenes, when the man’s various personalities interact with the girls. Blending the change in identities and the unpredictable dialogue with silence makes the situation only more horrifying and forces the audience to wonder how these girls escape, if they even do.

The cinematography is beautifully and conceptually done well, forcing anyone watching to experience the horror up close and feel helplessly trapped in a situation that is not even their own. Shyamalan successfully created specific focuses by positioning the camera in close-up shots and mid-shots. By making the audience see exactly what he wanted us to see, the man’s identity changes, Casey Cooke’s horrified expressions, and sometimes a character’s experience in their own eyes, Shyamalan made each audience member truly a character in the film. Seeing horror from across the room or from a window does not equal the amount of terror when looking right into the face of a disturbed and damaged man with unknown intentions towards you.

Anya Taylor-Joy does a fantastic job as Casey Cooke. Her facial expressions are spot-on with the situation that her character is forced into. Casey, as a character, is surprisingly just as interesting as the man who kidnapped her. Her past plays into the storyline in flashbacks, which I found to be a necessary component to understanding her personality and what happens to her at the end of the film.

A disappointing aspect of Split is that while the main actors are great, some of the supporting actors were not. Jessica Sula, who plays Marcia, did not perform at the same level of “horrified victim” as her two co-stars, undermining the terrifying situation at times.

This is not a disappointing factor, but I will warn those who expected a typical, jump-scare horror film. Split is a slow psychological thriller. I will say that it is not for everyone. You cannot sit through the film without having to think in depth about what the characters represent and about the oppression those who suffer from mental illnesses face on a daily basis. This film will undoubtedly have you contemplate the complexities of the human brain while also question what truly makes one a monster.

I will say that Split is definitely a film that I can watch again and will add to my arsenal of favorites.

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