Let’s first address the elephant in the room: is M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie, Split, any good?
And hell yes!
The other question you might have is: is there a twist?
No. There’s some cool surprises, but not the kind of killer twist audiences came to expect in Shyamalan’s breakout movies.
After his early successes with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs, Shyamalan faced a backlash like no other director in recent memory when he started to do movies that didn’t have that signature twist.
The way audiences turned on him after The Village, Lady in the Water, and The Happening, you’d think that he’d taken up recreating Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films or something.
I’ve never fully understood the hate Shyamalan received.
Some of it, I got. It was inevitable as people generally love to find an unknown with talent, then shower them with praise, elevating them before inevitably bringing them down.
Americans love a newcomer or an underdog, but if you have a string of successes, fuck you.
They say you’re a one-trick pony, full of yourself, or were never even that talented to begin with.
Of course it didn’t help that Lady in the Water was too weird for most, The Happening was laughably bad at times, and The Last Airbender was … well, whatever it was. In fairness, I didn’t see The Last Airbender, but it also got a lot of hate.
To make matters worse, Shyamalan was no longer doing the movies people expected him to do. Gone were the twist endings, but how long did people expect him to keep doing those? Once you’re known for your twist endings, it’s all people will expect of you. And when you try to do something different, your movie is judged not for what it was trying to do but rather what it wasn’t.
Once you’re pigeonholed, it’s hard to do the sorts of movies you want to do.
Then came Devil (it was okay) and After Earth (it was not), two movies that scored 52% and 11% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes. The only movie of Shyamalan’s to do worse than After Earth was The Happening, which earned a horrifying SIX PERCENT.
In 2013, it seemed that audiences had given up on Shyamalan.
In some circles, his name was synonymous for washed-up. Late night talk show hosts were even making jokes about how awful his movies were.
His career seemed to be over.
It was a tough time to be a Shyamalan fan. I remember many arguments with other people, with me sticking up for him, still believing he’d have a come back.
I actually defended Lady in the Water.
Was it great?
No, but I loved the boldness of him telling the story he wanted to tell. And I genuinely liked the movie for what it was.
In 2015, he released The Visit, a horror movie that did pretty well in the box office and with some critics.
Then when I saw previews for Split, I dared to wonder, dared to hope:
does Split mark a Shyamalan comeback?
If you ask me, I’d say a resounding yes!
But don’t take my word for it.
Split, has a 78% Rotten Tomatoes rating, comparing favorably with The Sixth Sense’s 85% rating.
Without giving too much away, Split is about three teenage girls who are abducted by a man with split personalities. I would strongly suggest avoiding the trailers as Hollywood just can’t avoid GIVING AWAY TOO MUCH!
Despite guessing what would happen, because of the stupid ass trailers, I still enjoyed every minute of Split. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t comparing Shyamalan’s newest movie to his classics, or trying to come up with a defense to haters.
I was simply enjoying watching a master at work.
Split is a taut, well-written, beautifully-filmed thriller, with some great shots that make you appreciate Shyamalan’s skills. But perhaps even better than the writing and the direction, are the performances from the leads.
James McAvoy is terrifying and brilliant in his multi-character performance. The way he shifts from one personality to another is mesmerizing. I dare you to look away from the screen!
One moment he is beguiling you with the innocent personality of nine-year-old, Hedwig. And the next, he is scaring the hell out of you as the control freak, Dennis.
For a movie like this to work, the actor needs to embody the many characters he is playing in such a way that you can just look at him and determine who he is at any moment. Watching the subtle shift from one character to another using just his facial expressions is spellbinding.
That’s not even taking into account his mannerisms and voices. If you’re a drama student or a young actor, you’ve got to watch his performance. His command of the characters is awe inspiring.
Also turning in an impressive performance is Anya Taylor-Joy who’d already impressed me in 2015’s The Witch. Taylor-Joy plays outcast Casey Cook, one of the three kidnapped girls whose back story is slowly revealed as the movie’s plot unfolds. This second story inside the main story really brings the final act of the movie home in a way that it might not have worked nearly as well without.
Taylor-Joy is the heart of this movie, and holds her own with McAvoy’s electric performances. She is economical in her expressions, conveying much without overdoing it. She makes you care about her character in a deeper way than most thrillers manage.
Most thrillers barely pay service to the character in jeopardy. Not so with Split.
Here the characters are absolutely integral to the story.
Betty Buckley is the third star of the film with a great turn as Kevin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher. It seems that one of Kevin’s personalities has been emailing her, trying to stop Kevin from doing something very, very bad. The way Shyamalan slowly builds the suspense as Dr. Fletcher tries to suss out which personality she is talking to, and what’s going is pitch perfect.
Split marks a well-earned comeback for Shyamalan, and I’m hoping that it erases any doubts people had about his ability to still make great movies. At the very least, it provides a great third act with Shyamalan playing another role we love to root for — the comeback kid.
Here’s to hoping this third act will be a long and storied one.
Now, here’s two side notes that didn’t fit in anywhere else above:
Note 1: Taylor-Joy has also been approached to play Magik in a possible The New Mutants movie. I’m excited to learn that a) there is actually a New Mutants movie in the works and b) she might play one of my favorite characters.
Note 2: Holy shit, there is one awesome thing about this movie that I REALLY want to talk about! No, not a twist ending. I can’t say anything without spoiling one of the cooler moments of the movie, but you’ll know it when you see it, and you’ll be all, “Hell yeah!” when you do see it. I might talk about it in a special podcast episode or something, as it’s really too cool to not talk about.
So, what is your favorite Shyamalan film?
Did you see Split? What did you think (without spoilers)?