M. Night Shyamalan is back in a really impressive way with his new movie Split. Checked out an early Thursday showing and I’m so happy to see his little indie found footage movie The Visit from last year was not a fluke (in that I rather enjoyed it). After making The Village, The Happening, Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, and After Earth, he’s finally back to making, you know, actually good movies instead of the… ugh… disaster that series of films was.
Split is the story of a guy (played excellently by James McEvoy) with Dissociative Identity Disorder (split personality) who kidnaps three girls for nefarious and mysterious reasons. The movie seems to exist, in part, to showcase McEvoy’s pretty amazing ability to switch quickly between the various personalities… and, in part, to be just a really good, somewhat unpredictable Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt episode. Basically to give chills and suspense with some great camera work, lighting, and a gets-under-your-skin musical score.
McEvoy is really impressive. I didn’t know he had it in him but he really manages to make each of the personalities we see (there are 23) distinct… and he sometimes switches between them rapidly. And, given that he’s playing the creepy villain, it’s both a credit to McEvoy and to the script that he manages to make the character almost sympathetic… at times.
The female lead is played by a new actress Anya Taylor-Joy who is a revelation here. I’ve seen her in a bonnet and speaking the old-timey dialog of The Witch and in a hoodie and bald (and not saying much of anything) in the sci-fi/horror film Morgan from last year… but she never made an impression on me. She did for many viewers in The Witch… and to no viewers because nobody saw Morgan. Here she does great work and that’s partly because they focus heavily on her face… the camera is in love with her. And, yes, she is pretty but it’s mainly due to her weirdly large and yet wide-spaced almond-shaped eyes. She plays her character quiet and reserved so those eyes are used often to express an interesting inner-life and backstory.
It’s not a perfect movie in that the first act is a little clunky at times. Especially in the dialog for a well-acted psychiatrist character. She delivers a lot of clunky exposition via Skype to a conference explaining how the disorder works (at least in this movie’s fiction) which is clearly just awkward exposition for the audience. But her character and the actress is good otherwise in the rest of the film.
I won’t go into more detail as that would require spoilers. I won’t even say whether there is an M. Night Shyamalan TWIST ending. I will say the ending is… interesting… and then there’s another scene that somehow both re-contextualizes the whole movie but could also have been left out of the movie without hurting it. It’s a clever bit of screenwriting.
So, yeah, check this one out… unlike you don’t want to get creeped out by a good suspense film. This one is on the level of Signs and Unbreakable in my book… those are probably better overall in that they are more consistently good, but at least this isn’t The Happening.