4.5 out of 5
M. Knight Shyamalan has been out of the spotlight for quite a while now — well, maybe not out of the spotlight — it’s just not been the one he probably wanted to be in. After the success of “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” and “Signs” — his movies have kind of…Well, they’ve stunk. Let’s just call it what it is. The magic seemed to be gone. His trick of throwing a curve ball at the end of each movie started to feel forced, and the stories just weren’t there. Then came “The Visit” in 2015. Though it largely flew under the radar, it still made $98.5 million at the box office on a $5 million budget, and had a 64% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It was a fun movie, with plenty of scares — and the curve ball at the end — though you could see it coming — was good. Now, two years later, we have “Split.” If “The Visit” was a sign that he was knocking on the door of success again, “Split” simply busts the door down and comes barging in. Put simply — it is as good as any of his previous successes.
The movie wastes no time getting right to the tension — as three girls are abducted in a parking lot and taken to a hidden location underground. The abductor gives little information to the girls, and has an incredibly creepy / driven vibe about him. As the kidnapped girls are trying to figure out a plan of action — something strange begins to happen. The man who abducted them, enters the room dressed in women’s clothing, speaks with a British accent and tries to assuage their fears. Not long after that — the same man enters the room and talks to them as though he is a 9-year-old boy. At first they feel he is just trying to scare them — but the most astute girl, Casey Cooke (played by Anna Taylor-Joy), surmises that he has multiple personalities and begins to try to use those personalities to find an escape. James McAvoy, who plays at least 8 different personalities in the movie (but is a character with 24 overall), is simply brilliant. Shyamalan’s use of the camera, and framing of close ups puts you right in the middle of the emotion and turmoil of this man who is struggling so much, and McAvoy returns the director’s techniques with an acting performance that is award worthy. In a few scenes he transitions from one character into the next as simply as someone might change their shirt. It is fascinating to watch. The subtleties with which he makes the changes are small (appearance, accent, body language, etc.) — but he convinces you that you are watching different people each time.
Outside of the main story, we meet Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who is treating McAvoy’s characters, is trying to introduce a theory into the scientific world that multiple personalities, and the brokenness which causes them may actually be a way to unlock the full potential of the brain. She illustrates this by documenting cases in which patients have one personality who has diabetes, but another does not. She shows how each personality can change the body’s chemistry and heal or damage the person who harbors them — how out of their brokenness — they become stronger. Kevin (McAvoy’s real name in the film), is a prime example of that, and Dr. Fletcher does her best to help him.
This is where the movie begins to take on a bit of a supernatural feel, and you begin to sense that curve ball developing for which Shyamalan is known for. However, unlike “The Visit,” and closer to his previous successes — you cannot figure it out. As you’re watching, you’re entertained, the story is good, the acting is brilliant — and the filmmaking is excellent — but you know there’s another shoe about to drop, and it all revolves around a new personality emerging from Kevin called The Beast. Finally, when you think it’s all revealed, the movie takes one more turn, and the last few moments open your eyes to what you’ve been watching all along, and it is an awesome reveal.
M. Knight Shyamalan is back with “Split.” I simply loved this movie. For fans of his — this is a welcome sight — and once you see where he’s going with all of this, you will get a big ol’ toothy grin on your face. It is a must see.
With that…If you want to remain in the dark — stop reading here. Beyond this point — there are MAJOR SPOILERS. So you’ve been warned…
STOP — I’M SERIOUS — I’M ABOUT TO BLOW THE LID OFF OF THIS THING!!!
Alright if you’re here — prepare to be thrilled — especially if you’re a fan of “Unbreakable.” At the end of the movie, the camera moves through a small diner, where news broadcasts are discussing the recent abduction and how the culprit (Kevin) is still on the loose. Throughout the movie, the three main personalities we see, Patricia, Dennis, Hedwig (and eventually The Beast) are called The Horde — since they are the bad personalities in Kevin’s trove of 24 identities. Thus, the newscasters are calling Kevin, The Horde. As this trails off into background noise — a waitress and customer begin discussing how with a nickname like that it is reminiscent of another character who was imprisoned 15 years ago, but they can’t remember his name. The camera moves past them, and there sits Bruce Willis, who says “Mr. Glass,” a character from “Unbreakable.” Then you remember Bruce Willis was the “superhero” in “Unbreakable,” and that he was the one who put Mr. Glass away. Then a light goes off. This whole time, you’ve been watching a movie in the same universe as “Unbreakable,” and essentially Kevin’s personalities, The Horde, with The Beast being able to do supernatural things is the new villain, Davin Dunn (Bruce Willis) will have to deal with! This movie is a SEQUEL to “Unbreakable,” and basically an origins story for the new bad guy!!! Fantastic! Then as you look back you see that it was all there — similar to “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” and “Signs,” — Shyamalan just blinds you to it with a great story, great acting and great filmmaking. As Dr. Fletcher suggests — out of their brokenness — people are made stronger, just like David Dunn was in “Unbreakable.” So with all that said, and if I’m right — does that mean there’s another movie coming? It would sure seem like it…And I can’t wait!