Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Hayley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery & Suspsense
While the trailer comes off as more horror and suspense, the film itself is more of a classic M. Night Shyamalan work as it contains more drama than horror. While I did see the film going in one direction, it went off in others that are certainly praiseworthy both in the actors’ performances and Shyamalan’s writing and directing. I’m glad to see that the Night himself is getting back to his original roots in cinema and stories that challenge the audiences’ mindsets.
Violent/Scary Images: As the film carries on, suspenseful scenes can turn horrific for audiences. This includes kidnapping, murder, and even cannibalism at certain points. Despite its PG-13 rating, it is not suited for families with young children.
Language/Crude Humor: There is not much language unless it’s certain scenes of victims being chased. At one point, mother****** was nearly used before being cut off.
Spiritual Content: There are a couple of conversations about Kevin’s split personalities being supernatural since the 24th personality has not yet been unlocked and comes off as spiritual and/or demonic.
Sexual Content: Some of the kidnapped girls take off their shirts not necessarily for sexuality, but as more of being physically pure for one of Kevin’s personalities from head to toe. There is also a hint of sexual assault by one of Casey’s relatives at a very young age, but nothing is shown.
Drugs/Alcohol References: Kevin uses a certain spray that knocks his victims’ out cold.
Other Negative Content: Other than what has been covered, I cannot really say that there is anything else.
Positive Content: As dark and difficult as one’s past may be, there is also the message that one does not fully understand life unless they have dealt with pain and strife in ways that others do not understand. This creates a certain bond between characters as they come to know who each other really are.
Throughout the late-1990’s and early 2000’s, Director and Writer M. Night Shyamalan was widely known in cinema by his suspenseful films with horror influences. His first film The Sixth Sense (1999) is known to be his best with one of the most widely known classic endings that audiences are still fascinated by to this day. Following his first success was another achievement that circled the superhero mythology Unbreakable (2000), starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.
Unfortunately, after his fourth installment The Village (2004) which received mixed reviews, his film career took a downfall with a number of box office bombs from his Nickelodeon film adaption The Last Airbender (2010) to his science-fiction drama After Earth (2013). For nearly three years, M. Night Shyamalan remained offscreen until his return with 2015’s The Visit, which surprised audiences and even critics. People remained uncertain if this was a comeback for the plot-twist writer, however, after viewing Split, I can certainly affirm that it is indeed a comeback.
What Shyamalan’s early films had in common was the mixing of mystery and suspense with drama and a dash of horror. While the trailer certainly came off as more of a horror-thriller, the film itself traces back to his roots of adding mystery and suspense into drama rather than drama into mystery and suspense.
While some of the close-ups can be called into question, the cinematography itself is definitely worth mentioning as it captured the realism and horror of being kidnapped and locked away in a place hidden from the outside world. As also seen in past films, Shyamalan captures the overall psychology of the characters and their characteristics, or in this case, personalities.
Another great contribution of the film is how it quickly starts audiences off with the kidnapping as seen in the trailer. Little is given in the backstory at the beginning which overall made a great pace for the film as it allows audiences to invest quickly into the plot and characters. As the film carries on, audiences move closer and closer to the edge of their seat awaiting for what is to become of Casey and her friends and what Shyamalan’s plot twist would consists of which certainly pays off.
James McAvoy certainly surprised me just by the trailer alone in what he brought to this new psychological thriller. Method acting to portray one character is dedication. Method acting to portray over five characters that switch from one to the next is another story. McAvoy certainly captures and even frightens audiences by his near to real portrayal of having Dissociative Identity Disorder. At a certain point, one may even feel sorrow for his character due to all that he has to fight and deal with every second of the day.
Following behind him is Anya Taylor Joy’s portrayal of the abducted young girl, Casey. In recent years, she has starred in mystery and horror films such as The Witch (2015) and Morgan (2016). Her portrayal as the misunderstood schoolgirl who fights her way out of abduction does not come as to a surprise due to the films’ genre and overall plot. Besides the fact that her character stands out among the other two kidnapped high schoolers, she dedicates herself to the role of not only trying to fight her way out, but also trying to understand Kevin’s personalities individually to persuade them to let her leave or show her the way. The character chemistry between the two is in fact a scary one yet successful one in how they balance each other out with the primary focus set on them.
As with a number of Shyamalan films, the supporting cast only plays so much of a part in the long run of the film’s story. This is not to say that they do not contribute. That being said, they are easily overlooked in the long run compared to McAvoy and Joy. Betty Buckley’s portrayal of Dr. Fletcher is one that primarily stands out as she unravels Kevin’s personalities. However, there was a small bit of wanting to know more about her work on her patients, Kevin in particular, that possibly would have contributed to the film in the long run. Along with this is the difficult placing of flashback points. Throughout some of Shyamalan’s work, there is a key reason as to why flashbacks exist. While they can be put together in the film, the pacing and the length of them seemed out of place in Split and could have used an expansion on to connect with the main plot and story.
It is great to see M. Night Shyamalan not only return to the big screen with his recent films and with this one in particular, but also that he has gone back to his roots in his early work. Near solid pacing, a cast with well-balanced chemistry, and a second act that will leave audiences either on the edge of their seat or cringing in a ball as the watch and await what is to happen next. Director M. Night Shyamalan, you’ve still got it.
Trey Soto holds a B.A. in Communication Studies from Biola University, emphasis in Interpersonal/Rhetorical Theory. He has been a Film Critic/Analysis for over a year at Geeks Under Grace and other websites such as Temple of Geek. In his spare time, he enjoys comic book literature, screenwriting, production assistant freelancing, photography, cosplay, and hosting his own film podcast T.V. Trey on Podbean and iTunes.
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