Weekly Review: Split (2017)

Three young women are abducted by a man who appears to have multiple personalities. As they struggle to escape, they soon find that the worst is yet to come.

Split is the newest feature film from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. This fact is kind of the elephant in the room for many people, so I’ll address it first. Shyamalan has become somewhat of a pariah over the years. After hitting it big with his first couple of films (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable), audiences became more and more disappointed with his work (leading up to the massive disappointments of The Happening and The Last Airbender).

I’ve always been very open about the fact that I’m a fan of Shyamalan’s work. I consider him to be one of my influences. I appreciate the ideas he attempts to convey. While he may not hit it big with every one of his films, when he does it right, it really sticks with you.

When I reviewed his film, The Visit, back in 2015, I remember remarking that I saw a return to his better days. I wondered if that film would be an indicator of a potential rise back into favorability for Shyamalan. After seeing Split, I’m within that same mindset.

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The first thing I have to say about Split is a bit of a complaint. It’s less a complaint about this particular movie itself, and more of a complaint of the horror/thriller genre as a whole. This particular genre has never been forgiving to those who have mental illnesses. The genre can be rather brutal, showing people with mental illnesses in a dangerously negative light. Split doesn’t break away from this mold.

Within Split, the main antagonist has dissociative identity disorder (DID). A good portion of the film discusses some of the realistic aspects of this particular disorder, such as its mixed reception among medical professionals. In the end, this film delves back into the genre’s regular parameters though. Don’t expect to come out of this movie with a realistic take on people with mental illness.

With that commentary aside, the story behind Split is pretty good. It certainly returns to the themes in many of Shyamalan’s works. There is an element of child-like innocence, a look at human nature, as well as several other themes that I won’t name for fear of spoiling the ending.

Split has a pretty amazing cast. Most notably, the main antagonistic role is played by James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class). He does a pretty fantastic job switching between multiple characters. McAvoy really gets into each personality he portrays. I loved it. He really carries the film. Opposite McAvoy is Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), who portrays the main protagonist Casey. Her performance in this movie is just as subtle and engaging as her role in The Witch. I am definitely looking forward to seeing more of her in the future.

Before I go any further into this review, I’ll touch on the story just a bit more. As I mentioned previously, I’ll be as vague as possible to not ruin any plot details. I was extremely worried when going into this film that the story was going to be predictable. Shyamalan has made many films that feature a prominent twist. It’s come to be expected from his work.

I personally found that the bulk of Split‘s story was really engaging. You find out just enough about the antagonist to make him interesting, but there is still a lot left to the unknown to keep him mysterious. There is a decent subplot with the protagonist that makes its way into the overall message of the film. I will say that parts of the ending seemed to be a bit too ambitious, and I could see this losing some people.

The cinematography within Split really helps carry the story. There are a lot of camera shots that work well with the enclosed area where the film takes place. While there are a couple of slip ups that involve camera movement and lighting, it all works together in a pretty cohesive way. There’s a lot of motion in the camera work for this film, and I think that brought a lot of unease to the situation at hand.

I have to give a shout out at this point to the beginning and end credits of Split. I’m always a fan of creative ideas for credits, and Split doesn’t miss out on the opportunity to do something creative. The credits are a stand out job.

Overall, I’d say that Split really goes back to the roots of what made Shyamalan a known director in the first place. You can see his growth in terms of the risks he’s willing to take. I’ve certainly noticed an increase in creep factor and screwed up/twisted plot points in his most recent films.

As a fan, I’m incredibly happy with how this film turned out for Shyamalan. I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes out with next.

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