After dutifully viewing all best picture nominees, I rewarded myself with some genre nonsense yesterday by finally catching up with M Night Shyamalan’s Split, heralded by many critics as a major return to form. For my money, The Sixth Sense remains the high watermark in Shyamalan’s career, but there are just enough things in Split to raise it slightly above the average entry in the abduction/slasher genre.
Three teenage girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) are abducted by Kevin (James McAvory), a man with twenty-three distinct personalities residing within him. These various personalities interact with the abducted girls in different ways, and the threat of all manner of nastiness is never far away, as a twenty-fourth personality begins to emerge, known as “The Beast”. Concurrently, another of Kevin’s personalities tries to tell his therapist (Betty Buckley) what he has done, but is prevented by the two dominant personalities who intend to bring about the coming of “The Beast”.
Shyamalan directs efficiently and effectively, but it is McAvoy’s tour-de-force performance that dominates. The various personalities are each convincingly performed and provide the main reason to give this a watch. Elsewhere genre conventions are more predictable, right down to who the “final girl” will be (very obvious from the start), and the fact that for all its artful pretences, this isn’t above having teenage girls being stalked along dark corridors in their underwear. Amid the suspense and occasional gory moments, disturbing themes are touched on, including child abuse, but never in a particularly profound way, other than the notion that those who suffer in life can potentially rise above their suffering to become stronger people in the long run.
In short, although hardly destined for classic status like The Sixth Sense, I’d say Split is well worth a watch for fans of the genre. Watch out for a neat nod to M Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable near the very end too.