So I just got home from seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie, Split, and I was blown away by my surprise. This movie is not only really good, but it’s M. Night’s best movie since Signs. I’ve had a decently positive experience with Night in general. Though I haven’t seen his first two films, Praying with Anger and Wide Awake, The Sixth Sense is one of my all-time favorite movies. Unbreakable is one of the best and most unique subversions of the superhero genre. Signs was a surprisingly heartfelt and personal tale about a family dealing with an impending alien invasion, The Village was heavily underrated, much of the hate for Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender is unfounded and overblown, and I haven’t seen The Happening or After Earth yet. But then The Visit came out, and I really liked it. The Visit felt like a return to Night’s roots, but I wasn’t a hundred percent willing to say that Night was back just yet. I felt that there was a small possibility that The Visit might have been just a fluke. But then Split came out and I was happily surprised. Now that Night has returned to form and is making small-scale, self-contained thrillers on a small budget rather than making massive-scale, overblown action pieces that have giant budgets that Night has no idea what to do with, I feel he can start churning out new and frighteningly original, lovingly crafted pieces of cinema. Better yet, now that he’s working for Blumhouse productions, a studio well-known for churning out low-budget horror flick after low-budget horror flick and clearly knowing how to utilize as few crew members as necessary, Night has a significantly easier time finding the few people he needs to shoot his movies, rather than asking for millions of dollars from a big-name studio to hire his workers.
By the way, you read that second-to last sentence right. Yes, I said that: original. Split is one of the most original and unique films I have seen in the last few years.
The acting is phenomenal. Well, at least from the two leads, James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. Oh, and the psychiatrist was pretty good too. The chick playing the other white chick relied a little too much on using her arms to act instead of her face or the rest of her body. James McAvoy’s performance is amazing. Any other less-talented actor would have either been too bland or too over-the-top, and McAvoy finds the perfect balance. Moreover, he was not just playing one character, but multiple characters. We do not get to see all of McAvoy’s soon-to-be-twenty-four personas, but McAvoy taking on the ones we do see and actually making them as convincing as he does is brave as hell and truly showcases his talent. I love seeing him transition from OCD clean freak Dennis to prim, proper Patricia, to playful, immature Hedwig, to the flamboyant Barry who has a taste for fashion, to historian Orwell, to diabetic Jade, and, ultimately, to the ungodly terrifying Beast. I love seeing him give each of his onscreen personas their own foibles and mannerisms, and make each one feel lile its own character. Keep in mind that his talents were highly misused in 2015’s travesty Victor Frankenstein, leaving McAvoy to give a miserable performance. But Split redeems him and then some, and he is easily the best part of Split. But Anya Taylor-Joy is a close second. I was throughly blown away by her Oscar-worthy performance as Thomasin in The VVitch, considered her to be the saving grace of Morgan, and she is just as amazing here. Admittedly, this comes with some bias, as I have a major crush on her. I also love how her character actually is given a backstory to provide a reason for her survival instincts. Look to Anya Taylor-Joy in Split, feminists. This is another girl you should strive to be like. Taylor-Joy and McAvoy act as, essentially, foils to each other. Taylor-Joy is subtle and still, while McAvoy is showy, showoffy, and somewhat hammy, and they balance each other perfectly.
The camerawork is fantastic. It’s only fitting that Night hired the cameraman from It Follows, another one of the best-shot horror films of the past decade. Much like in It Follows, the camerawork in Split contained many shots with a slow, steady, creeping zoom-in that really helped to escalate the tension. But, of course, Night’s isms are still there. He has a directing style all his own. He knows how to frame shots. He knows how to light shots. He knows how to color shots. He knows how to edit shots well. And for him to collaborate with the cameraman from It Follows is a recipe for a visual feast. Seriously, this one of Night’s best-shot films. The obvious, loving tributes to Hitchcock are there in abundance, and fit perfectly with the flow of the film.
The story is also surprisingly well-written. Admittedly, the second act could have been trimmed down a bit more. This is probably one of Night’s leanest narratives, but it still has an undeniable level of complexity, and it is constantly moving forward, even when the pace slows down quite a bit in the second act. The story itself is a bit of a puzzle. McAvoy kidnapped these girls; what does he want with them? How can they escape? Can they escape? How much time do they have before McAvoy’s twenty-fourth personality, the Beast, arises to dominate the other twenty-three? The other twenty-three personalities are looking forward to the coming of the Beast; what makes the Beast so fearsome? This is Night returning to his roots, directing a slow-burn thriller. It’s always been naggingly tense thus far, but when the climax comes and the Beast arrives, the movie all of a sudden becomes really scary. I’m not joking. McAvoy as the Beast is the epitome of menace, and every time he’s onscreen, you feel his presence. Seriously, the Beast is scary. He’s really scary. And the things he does when he arrives are ungodly disturbing.
And no, I’m not going to mention the twist at the absolute end.
I cannot stress how good this film is. Though there are a few bits of the Night people grew to hate, those are almost entirely gone. Go see this movie and behold what Night hath wrought.
It’s wonderfully refreshing to see Night return to form, and I look forward to seeing his future work. I’m giving this one a 4.5 out of 5. Welcome back, Mr. Shyamalan. We missed you.