Evan Minniti staff writer
M. Night Shyamalan is not considered an amazing director. The man is responsible for such cinematic atrocities as “The Last Airbender” and “The Happening”, among others. A man who started his career with so much promise, directing fantastic psychologically and dramatically engaging thrillers like “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable”, became regarded as a joke among general audiences. His latest film, “Split”, may just restore his reputation.
“Split” follows an outcast teenage girl (Anya Taylor-Joy) who has been kidnapped with two of her classmates by a man named Dennis (James McAvoy). It soon becomes apparent to them that Dennis is a man with an extreme case of multiple personality disorder, often changing into personalities like “Patricia” or “Barry.” Meanwhile, Dennis’s therapist (Betty Buckley) is starting to piece together that “Barry,” the peaceful extroverted personality that Dennis projects to the world, is a dangerous mirage.
There are a few ridiculous moments in “Split” that will challenge the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Overall, however, “Split” is a surprisingly thoughtful character study in addition to a solid horror flick. A series of flashbacks help introduce little concepts that not only help build up to the climax, but also give Joy’s character an emotional backstory.
No one would doubt that McAvoy is an accomplished actor with dozens of performances on screen and stage, including a recent starring performance in a “Macbeth” production. However, McAvoy gives some of his most simultaneously bizarre and amazing performances in “Split”. There are scenes in the movie when two of his personalities talk to one another and it actually seems like two different people are speaking. McAvoy effectively executes his task of believably playing a stern English governess, an effeminate Bostonian and a talkative child, among others. McAvoy more than rises to the occasion. There are no traces of his distinctive real-life Scottish accent anywhere in the film.
In addition to McAvoy, Joy is something of a scream queen-in-the-making after giving a chilling debut performance in 2015’s “The Witch”. Like McAvoy, Joy is a native of the British Isles, but a newcomer to her work wouldn’t know that by watching “Split”. Her American accent is impeccable. She expertly plays an emotionally damaged but resourceful social outcast, trying desperately to get out of her situation alive. The audience really ends up rooting for her by the end of the film.
Though certainly not perfect, “Split” is a very nice return to form for Shyamalan, as well as a showcase for McAvoy’s and Joy’s performances.