Thursday, January 19, 2017

Split - Review


   Very few directors, or filmmakers in general, have as strong of a start as M. Night Shyamalan. And yet few have had such a downfall like the young director had following the promising beginning. After a few missteps (The Last Airbender and After Earth in particular) and some truly disastrous films, the filmmaker corrected course with 2015’s The Visit and has truly made a return to greatness with Split.

   While the mental divisions of those with dissociative identity disorder have long fascinated and eluded science, it is believed that some can also manifest unique physical attributes for each personality, a cognitive and physiological prism within a single being. Though Kevin (James McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him - as well as everyone around him - as the walls between his compartments shatter apart.

   The story is a fairly basic setup for a thriller; the girl gets kidnapped and taken to underground bunker is pretty common for horror type films. The added mystery of 23 different personalities being responsible for this act is new though and that unique element gives Split it’s remarkable tension. The film is certainly a slow burn, with very few true scares, but the build up continues with each subsequent act for a payoff that’s well worth it.

   Now a film with such an interesting premise depends on its performances to make or break the entire thing. Luckily, Split has James McAvoy delivering one of the best performances of his career. McAvoy takes risks and elevates this film with each new personality. The distinction between the identities is clear and distinct, showing the true dramatic range of McAvoy. Of course others came to play support as well, with Betty Buckley and Anya Taylor-Joy getting the most to do. Buckley plays compassionate and terrified when she needs to, sharing some great moments with McAvoy. And Taylor-Joy, who is clearly going to be a star, possesses this quality that makes her so incredibly believable in each role she is in and it allows her to shine here.

   Split is perhaps one of Shyamalan’s best looking films, shot tremendously by Mike Gioulakis, which only adds to the drama happening on screen. Shyamalan shows growth with this film as well, showing more information rather than just using clunky, expository dialogue to explain important pieces to the narrative. Between this and The Visit, Shyamalan seems to have found his groove again with the small budget horror films.

   Overall, Split marks the true return for M. Night Shyamalan. And while there is still improvements to be made, the smaller scale and more tension based filmmaking is suiting him extremely well. By surrounding himself with other talented filmmakers and actors, Shyamalan appears to have learned from past mistakes and everyone should certainly go back to keeping an eye on this particular director.

   So what did you think of Split? Have you seen it and what's your favorite M. Night Shyamalan film? Subscribe, share, comment below and as always return to I Am Sam for weekly reviews and insight.

   (PS The twist is extremely well done, I just didn’t want to spoil it.)