Every horror fan knows that M. Night Shyamalan has had a rocky career. He’s hit some high highs, but unfortunately he’s also hit some extreme lows. In 2015 he gave us the Wayward Pines series, which I’ve yet to finish, but showed promise. He also released The Visit which falls into a weird gray area where it manages to be both awesome and awful. His latest film, Split places him firmly back into good filmmaker territory, well at least for now.
Split follows a teen outcast (Anya Taylor-Joy) and two of her classmates (Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) that are captured by a man with multiple personalities (James McAvoy). The girls must figure out how to stay alive, and how to protect themselves from their attacker’s 24 identities.
Split relies on heavy tension and well crafted characters to hold the viewer hostage until the very end. Each one of McAvoy’s personalities is unique and feels like an actual person, or perhaps even something supernatural. He sheds personas with ease, allowing him to shift back and forth between characters. Like his captives, the audience is left waiting for him to snap and change into someone or something else.
The film tackles issues of mental illness and abuse with an unexpected level of compassion. Split makes you feel for McAvoy’s character, even as he commits horrific crimes. There is great deal of debate about whether Dissociative Identity Disorder/Multiple Personality Disorder even exists. For the purposes of Split, DID is both a gift and a burden. McAvoy’s character, possesses a multitude of talents, due to the diverse nature of his personalities. However, it makes life difficult for him, as he essentially has 24 identities competing for control, and some of them have bad intentions. In addition to DID, Split also delves into abuse. Both the protagonist and the antagonist are victims of child abuse. This is intriguing, because in a sense it makes them kindred spirits, who have wound up on different paths.
Split is a great theatrical horror film to kick off 2017. It’s smart, it has fully developed characters, and one hell of an ending. Hopefully M. Night can keep producing quality work like Split.