By: Meg Schmit
Night Shyamalan films can go either way for me. I appreciated the twists in The Village and Sixth Sense, but rolled my eyes at the ridiculousness of The Visit and Devil. So, when Split hit theaters, I was more than a little skeptical, but at my friend’s urging and my own love for James McAvoy, I caved in.
And sitting in the dark theater, half-holding my breath, I’m so glad I did.
Split is now one of my favorite Shyamalan films. Maybe it has to do with my own fascination with abnormal psychology, or maybe I was just captivated with McAvoy’s performance. But either way, I left the theater feeling like it was the best $11 I’d spent on a movie in a while.
To begin, the premise is brilliant. It plays on the controversy surrounding Dissociative Identity Disorder in a way that both mesmerizes and terrifies the viewer. Some of McAvoy’s personalities are endearing, like nine-year-old Hedwig, but others, like the calculating Miss Patricia, leave you with chills running down your spine. McAvoy portrays each personality perfectly, to the point where the viewer can identify each one just by reading the glint in his eye. McAvoy definitely deserves an Oscar for this role.
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The style is clean, simple, and crisp. There’s no flashy colors, angles, or lenses, and the diversity of McAvoy’s personalities is conveyed through pure acting ability, not special effects. It’s emotionally intense and real.
Even the plot twist, Shyamalan’s signature, is more tame than usual – which to me, was a relief. Yes, there’s the supernatural element of the 24th personality, “The Beast,” but it is done in a more reserved and “believable” manner. McAvoy doesn’t suddenly grow hair and fangs, but his body alters itself to a stronger, darker version of itself. In the end, the emphasis is still on the power of the mind, the human psyche, than the physicality of the body.
This movie brings back Shyamalan’s talents in filmmaking, and some critics say it’s his greatest hit since Sixth Sense – arguably his best movie, though perhaps now rivaled by Split.