Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson
Runtime: 116 min
James McAvoy plays Kevin, a man with a genetic disease which allows him to have multiple personalities. His trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), knows 23 of them, but there's one hidden from everyone who desires to dominate over all the others. Compelled by one of his personalities, Kevin abducts three girls, where Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) becomes their leader to try and escape the "crazy" man.
Is this the return to form by M. Night Shyamalan, who has been struggling for more than a decade to release a major success? Is Split the movie that brings him back to the spotlight?
Once again, Shyamalan's storytelling is very original, unconventional and ultimately mind-blowing. Instead of establishing everything the audience needs to know about the characters right at the beginning, he gradually develops them, giving them haunting backstories and spreading parts of it throughout the runtime. That said, this film isn't for everyone. The audience needs to trust Shyamalan and be patient. Really patient. Don't start taking notes about something that you think it's negative because once you reach the third act, everything changes and suddenly it all makes sense. The screenplay is not as twisty as Unbreakable, for example, but it demands absolute attention in order to catch up on all the things that matter (and the ones that don't, as well).
The production and editing team have to be congratulated due to their seamless work. From the camera work to the extended one-take sequences, as well as the environment surrounding the characters, everything feels real and looks amazing. The soundtrack ... Let me just say that this element is so, but so much relevant to the conclusion of this movie. I can't really say anything else without spoiling the ending, so I'll leave a note after my rating at the end of the review with a MAJOR SPOILER.
As for the cast, I'll start with the man that I honestly think should have received an Oscar nomination: James McAvoy. You know, there's a big difference in portraying a non-fiction character instead of a fiction one: concerning the former, you can't really escape the true nature of the person you are playing, but with the latter, as an actor/actress, you have to deliver yourself 100% to the role for it to be believable ... And God, does McAvoy deliver! He gives 200% in what could be his best performance to date. Do you think Andy Serkis had problems portraying both Gollum and Sméagol at the same time? Well, imagine 7 ... or 8 characters. I lost the count. All in all, James McAvoy, sir, congratulations! You are superb!
Anya Taylor-Joy is also incredible as Casey! Her character has the most intriguing story of the three girls, and she's the one who assumes the leadership of the group once the kidnap occurs. Her initially unknown past helps her through the traumatic situation, but it's really her rather captivating backstory that grabbed my attention. It's fundamental to the understanding of the ending and Anya does a terrific job. I also want to give a small praise to Betty Buckley for a beautiful and necessary interpretation of Dr. Fletcher, a character that offers the audience some knowledge of Kevin's disease.
As for the other two kidnapped girls, well ... They're my main issue with the film since they don’t have a good reason to be there. Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) aren't the main characters, and they don't have that much screen time, but their dialogue still feels extremely forced and filled with a lot of nonsense. The ending of the story might not be as twisty as in other Shyamalan's installments, but I hope that people don't give up to false expectations. The classic Shyamalan's twisty ending isn't a necessary attribute of his movies, but the truth is that the twist is not the one you think it is. Once again, the note at the end of my review will clarify this.
In the end, Split is Shyamalan's return to his old early 2000's self. Brilliantly unconventional storytelling, a lot of suspense, some very captivating subplots and a fantastic editing and production team behind him. The soundtrack plays a huge role in this film, as well as James McAvoy, who delivers his career-best performance. Anya Taylor-Joy is also pretty extraordinary, something that can't be said about her fellow friends who portrayed two bland characters. The ending brings the classic twist that makes everything more understandable, and I gotta say ... I love this film, and it is one of 2017's best!
******************* MAJOR SPOILER *******************
As I said above, the soundtrack plays a huge role in the ending twist. That's because the soundtrack that plays right before the title of the movie appears on the screen, is the same one as in the third act of Unbreakable.
This is one of the many clues throughout the film that hint at the idea that Split belongs to Unbreakable's universe. Naturally, after the title shows up, there's a scene with David Dunn (Bruce Willis) that confirms this theory, but these are little details that make Shyamalan into a great director and screenwriter. Also, it's a pity that I've only watched these movies after Shyamalan stating that they were part of an eventual trilogy. Not that I was not surprised at the end of Split, but it did remove that first impact of pure shock in knowing that two films separated by 17 years (in real life) are part of the same universe.
Both movies end up falling into the "superhero" genre. Unbreakable is the story of our "hero" who spent his whole life sad because he wasn't doing "what he was supposed to do", and Split is an origin story of our "villain". If Glass delivers, this might be one of the best “superhero” trilogies ever.