By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.
Split (2017), a tale of three young women who find themselves kidnapped and imprisoned by a man who has twenty-three diverse personalities within him (though we only encounter nine of them), and is on the verge of unveiling his monstrous twenty-forth, is tense, tough and terrific. Though it incorporates several bits in its last act that come off as too convenient to get our heroine from point A to point B, betraying the organically built nature of the narrative, M. Night Shyamalan otherwise delivers. Much of this is courtesy of his superbly constructed, meditative, breakneck paced and character-oriented screenplay. It is one that grips us with Shyamalan’s seemingly effortless ability to generate suspense. This is even when issuing the most tried and true of thriller elements into this arrangement. Such is evident in a certainly attention-garnering, and beautifully executed, commencing sequence. This oversees the abduction of our female protagonists, who are waiting on the return of their adult driver, from the back and passenger seats of a car. Rarely in its one hundred and seventeen-minutes does this factor of unproblematic amusement waver.
To its further credit, the script is also undeniably clever. It is filled with believably authored dialogue. All of which is just as credibly administered by the players. Likewise, the penned piece is unafraid to go into a variety of surprisingly dark and genuinely shocking places. This is most noteworthy in its routinely dispensed back story. Such is especially praise-worthy when considering that this is a PG-13 rated venture.
Helping matters further is that Shyamalan incorporates into this Blinding Edge Pictures and Blumhouse Productions release a clearly Hitchcockian sensibility to his brilliantly tuned direction. It often stylistically and thematically holds a mirror to Alfred Hitchcock’s timeless adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho (1960). The impressively designed and imaginative opening and closing credits sequence is potent evidence of this trait. But, the exertion is much its own entity. It doesn’t rely solely on this imitative attribute to elucidate both quality and audience appeal. Such makes the film, along with the high intrigue of the deceptively straightforward sounding plot, increasingly more triumphant. It also makes the composition easier to admire. West Dylan Thordson’s sparse, but unnerving, score along with Mike Gioulakis’ handsome, brooding cinematography only augment this detail.Relatedly, Luke Franco Ciarrocchi’s editing and Kurt Wunder’s special effects are seamless and sharp. Such also proves the technical mastery clearly visible within the presentation.
Complimenting these attributes are the magnificent lead performances. This comes foremost from James McAvoy, as the dissociative identity disorder (DID) suffering antagonist, Kevin. McAvoy shows that he is phenomenal at balancing the many successfully comedic moments his on-screen persona frequently conveys. This is without ever ignoring his ominous and menacing disposition. Such makes for a certainly rounded, oddly likable and watchable villain. Correspondingly, Anya Taylor-Joy is unflinching in her portrayal of Casey. She is our introverted, but anything but vulnerable, central figure. Moreover, Betty Buckley (2008’s The Happening) as Kevin’s psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, steals every scene she is in. Haley Lu Richardson as Claire Benoit, Brad William Henke as Uncle John, Sebastain Arcelus as Casey’s Father and Jessica Sula as Marcia are also excellent.
Yet, as undeniably entertaining as the effort is for most of the runtime, it gives way to a rather disappointing, disjointed final act. The sum of which is improved by a smirk-inducing alignment, which is more a sly reference than an all out twist, in its concluding section. Such will assuredly delight avid followers of Shyamalan’s prior work. This is while leaving casual viewers in the cold (much as it did with the theatregoers I saw it with). Shyamalan’s brief turn as the charismatic Jai is similarly enjoyable. The result is an excellent, highly recommended motion picture. It is one that, because of the previously stated shortcomings, falls just before the mark of greatness. Still, it is a journey that is well worth undergoing. With the rollercoaster ride that is Split, Shyamalan has proven that his cinematic capabilities are as stalwart and wildly unpredictable as ever.