One crazy just isn’t enough.
After a birthday party at the mall, three teenagers, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), are randomly kidnapped by a man named Dennis (James McAvoy). They have no clue why, or what his intentions are, but now, they’re stuck in his underground lair, of sorts, where he will do whatever he wants with them. However, there’s something relatively off about Dennis that the girls know right from the start; he’s constantly switching in and out of different personalities. Sometimes, he’s acting like a woman, sometimes, he’s acting like a hard-ass, and other times, he’s acting like a nine-year-old child. Eventually, the girls catch wind of this and realize that they could possibly use this to their advantages and manipulate him. But the more personalities that Dennis switches to, the more violent and angry they get, making the situation all the more dangerous and scary, even if, on the outside, there may be some hope, what with Dennis’ therapist (Betty Buckley), thinking more and more about Dennis’ issues and wanting to see just what he’s really got going on in that twisted, wild and out-of-control head of his.
Very early on in his career, when hopes were high and the sky was basically the limit, a lot of people were championing M. Night Shyamalan as “the next Spielberg”, or more radically, “the next Hitchcock.” And for awhile, it’s not hard to see why people bought this; his early movies, while definitely odd, were still ambitious, thrilling and well-done, showing a writer/director who wasn’t afraid to get us on the edge of our seats a little bit, but also tell a solid story in the mean time. It’s why a movie like the Sixth Sense, despite the pop-culture obsession surrounding it, is actually better than people give it credit for – in fact, it’s why a lot of his movies are better than people give them credit for. But then, of course, it all went haywire for M. Night’s career, and slowly but surely, his random plot twists became so ridiculous, so expected and so damn predictable, he essentially became a parody of himself.
It’s odd, though, because ever since After Earth, there’s been some sure signs that M. Night may soon make it back to our hearts, minds and souls again; the Visit, well definitely a silly movie, was still fun enough that it worked enough as a solid reminder that when he wants and isn’t distracted, M. Night can deliver on the genre-thrills. And they keep on coming with Split, M. Night’s latest that shows us what can happen when he isn’t given a whole bunch of stuff to work with. Sure, it’s his script and all, but the movie’s budget is smaller, the names in the cast aren’t as big as he’s used to working with, and guess what? The plot is actually so simple and straightforward that it gives him just enough of an opportunity to play around a little bit and have some fun.
Which is exactly what Split is, but it’s also a little bit more than just that.
Split finds M. Night meaner and darker than ever before, and for me, that really worked; taking the kidnapping plot out of the equation, this is a story about mental disorders, repressed homosexuality, pedophilia, incest, and oh yeah, cannibalism. It’s a very freaky and off-putting movie, but in that way, it actually works perfectly. M. Night knows just the right buttons to push, when to push them, and how to make them count; there’s a couple of silly moments here that are quite reminiscent of some of his lowest-peaks, but there’s something surrounding them that make the silliness, still kind of work.
This time, M. Night isn’t worried about tooting his own horn here, nor is he all that worried about trying to prove something to everyone that he deserves love and admiration from movie fans all over the world – this time, he just wants to give us a tense, shocking, and surprisingly unpredictable pulp-thriller. There are even moments where the film seems as if it’s going to go into places you expect it to, but then, it turns the other cheek and surprises; M. Night hasn’t been this smart in the longest time and it’s nice to see him back, working his tail off to provide some rough and tough stuff.
Still, rough and tough is what we need from M. Night and less of whatever the hell else he’s been doing for the past decade or so.
But M. Night isn’t the only star here and thankfully, he gets out of the way a lot and lets James McAvoy shine as “Dennis”. McAvoy has always been an exceptional talent to watch, but here, he really challenges himself, going deeper and darker into the depravity and sure craziness of this character. Sure, it can sometimes be really funny and weird, but it actually works in the movie’s favor, because there’s always a deep underlining of sadness felt throughout it all. It comes through the direction, of course, but most definitely through McAvoy’s performance, where he has to inhabit all of these different characters, personalities and mannerisms, handling them all very well, without seeming like he’s hamming it up too much.
Okay, maybe he does a little, but hey, he’s allowed to this time around.
Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Anya Taylor-Joy also put in good work as the three teens who have to figure their way out of this situation, with Taylor-Joy’s being the most handy. Although M. Night made her something of a laughing-stock in the Happening, Betty Buckley gives a good performance as Dennis’ therapist, who wants what’s best for him and stop bad things from happening, but also wants to push her own career a little bit, too. The movie constantly switches in-and-out between her and his story, which can sometimes get in the way the pacing, but for the most part, they’re both so good at what they do, it almost doesn’t matter.
Oh and that ending. Well, without saying too much, there is a twist and well, I’m still not sure what I have to say about it. I’ll just leave it at that and see where my thoughts take me over the next few weeks or so.
Consensus: With a smarter head on his shoulders this time around, Split finds M. Night in a playful, yet scary mood, adding tension, excitement and craziness to a pretty dreadful and dark story, giving us something that not many Hollywood companies would sign off on.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire