From The Sixth Sense to The Last Airbender, director M. Night Shyamalan has been great, mediocre, and just plain awful over the last decade or two. A few years ago, I don't believe many people had faith in him being able to create another audience-shocker, but then came along a little film called The Visit. While it was just a small film that showcased some elements of why he began directing in the first place, it wasn't really all that memorable. That being said, I'm very happy that he made The Visit, because it made Split possible. While I wouldn't call this Shyamalan's best work to date, it definitely ranks among his best. I went back and forth between liking and disliking this film, but once you make it to the conclusion, as long as you have been a fan of Shyamalan's work in the past, you may just be blown away by the greatness. Here is why Split works so well and why I think everyone needs to give it a chance.
The Accessible First Act
Beginning as a simple premise of a man kidnapping three girls and locking them up in a cellar, this film rapidly reveals its true colours. Revealing that he is a man with 23 different personalities that all come out as different times, it makes for a very creepy and atmospheric presentation. The first act of this film is truly what I believe will be getting the casual audiences into the theatre. While that's not a bad thing in any way, it does leave a bit of worry that they will not be satisfied with the conclusion of the story. Slowly revealing that there is more to this story than what is being displayed on its surface, it becomes more of a character study, and for very good reason. While I believe there is a reason for everything that occurs throughout this film, I can't see everyone being as impressed.
A Performance For The Ages
Whether or not you find yourself liking this film or not, it is without question that it wouldn't work without the brilliant work that James McAvoy brings to the table. Throughout the course of the film, the time in between each character he portrays, quickly increases. His performance becomes much more impressive as the film goes on, creating extreme amounts of tension. That being said, his character does go through a bit of a "transformation" that fans may not be too keen on. For the tone of the film that is presented throughout the first and second acts, it really doesn't blend well, until you find out what this film had been trying to accomplish all along.
The Big Reveal
For those of you who have yet to see this film, please skip to the final section, because I will be hinting at the finale of Split.
Split really works as two films to be honest. For the fans of M. Night Shyamalan, it becomes a much bigger reveal than it is for casual moviegoers. For audience members who are just looking for a creepy time at the movies, but really have no prior knowledge to the works he has done in the past, you may be a little letdown by the outlandish and ridiculous turn that this film takes. Having said that, Split also works as a world-building picture in retrospect. It's clear that he has been working on this story for quite some time, and just solidifies the fact that he is rapidly returning to form. This is his comfort zone and I think he should be sticking with it.
My Overall Thoughts
From the symmetry in in certain frames, to the attention to detail when it comes to building a creepy atmosphere, to clever writing that makes the film work as an average horror flick, but also much more when looking back on the film after its big reveal, it is absolutely clear that M. Night Shyamalan knows how to please his fans once again. He now has me looking forward to his future projects again. From some great performances by these young girls, to an award-worthy character displayed wonderfully by James McAvoy, to some very great scoring, as well as a solid screenplay and attentive direction, Split probably the best film you'll seen in all of January this year.
There are a few moments that could have been trimmed off and it does feel its length at times, but in retrospect, it needed to be and the payoff put a giant smile on my face. I love this film more and more as I think about it, but it's sadly not quite the accessible masterpiece for those who have no prior knowledge of this director. M. Night Shyamalan has done it again, but really only for his fans. For that reason, it's hard to recommend, but it's a great film for what it sets out to be. It really is for two separate audiences, one where the audience will have "split" opinions, and the other that will have people drooling in amazement. Split is a very well-made, revealing picture.