I neither watched the trailer, nor read anything about the film. I knew the trajectory of the filmmaker. Ever since I saw The Sixth Sense, I became a fan of his work. M. Night Shyamalan is a name we associate with thrillers that are thoroughly gripping and intense. Thrillers that manifest a twisted, unforeseeable denouement. And it is always a pleasure to get stupefied by his ingenious ideas. However, it took a significantly long amount of time for the helmer to deliver something as confounding as his preliminary works. (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable). To our delight, Split ends the prolonged drought.
It’s the classic Shyamalan film that keeps you guessing till the end, without giving much time to relax. And leaves you astounded when the big reveal happens.
And this is why it is necessary for you to abstain from reading anything about the plot. Don’t Wikipedia it either. The surprise element is already out there to spoil it for you. Keeping the synopsis to the minimal, Split is about a man named Kevin (played by James McAvoy), who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. He embodies twenty-three distinctive identities, each of which circumstantially come to the fore. His mental state is monitored by Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley). Things get nasty when one of Kevin’s pernicious personalities perpetrates a crime in order to please an emerging twenty-fourth identity known as The Beast.
The film begins in an exceedingly intriguing fashion. There is a strong suspicion in the air, thanks to Mike Gioulakis’ wonderful camerawork and West Thordson’s haunting score. The camera spins perplexingly around the characters, amplifying tension and urge for the threads to unfold. The set pieces infuse dense claustrophobia and terror as we see the protagonist and antagonist (depending on the personality in control) showcase various shades.
The 37-year-old American actor, prevalently known as Professor X, gives his career-best performance. In an extensively challenging role, James McAvoy doesn’t just don different get-ups or speak varied accents, but rightfully personifies each character to the fullest form. From facial tics to body movements, he swiftly transforms from one character to another. It is a treat to watch him ably carry the film on his shoulders.
On the upside, the supporting cast is equally excellent. Betty Buckley gets under the skin of her character. She shrewdly portrays the thought process of a psychologist and makes you believe in her. Anya Taylor-Joy, on the other hand, is the surprise package. It is such a delight these days to see young actors play layered characters, so competently. Some of the most demanding scenes in the film revolve around her and she does her job terrifically.
Apart from the plot twists and an assured direction, Shyamalan also permeates a compelling message. That one must face and deal with problems head on and not let one’s past take control of his present. We have seen similar themes deployed in numerous other films before but the execution is spot on. There are a few more hard-hitting elements imbued but the lesser revealed the better.
Overall, Split is M. Night Shyamalan’s glorious return to form. It promises more intelligent and original films to come from him in the future. Watch it for him and McAvoy. And watch it untainted, deprived of spoilers.
This is the best we could have hoped for in the year’s first month itself, brimful of shocks and surprises.
Where to watch: Netflix
Great review. One thing, though. Mr McAvoy is Scottish, not American.