A stunning return to form by Director M. Night Shyamalan, ‘Split’ is an intense, psychological thriller featuring an Oscar-worthy performance by James McAvoy and a smartly written script. The plot has some great pacing, the dialogue and writing for each character makes sense and despite the damsel in distress cliche, this is actually one of the best thrillers I’ve watched in a very long time.
The story revolves around Kevin, a young man struggling to cope with 23 distinct personalities, who kidnaps three girls ready for the coming of a 24th personality that threatens to overpower the rest of the horde (the name given for the group of personalities), frighteningly called “The Beast”. Locked in a basement, the three girls try to escape from Kevin’s manic personalities that have taken control whilst hoping counsellor Dr Fletcher (Betty Buckley) can somehow get through to Kevin and bring him back to become the dominant personality.
Although all 23 don’t show up through the film, the handful that do are given enough screen time and unique personality traits that you truly believe they are different people. Fashion guru Barry, calculating Patricia, clean freak Mr Dennis and 9 year old Hedwig are the predominant personalities and James McAvoy conveys them intelligently and with their own motivations, he really brings them to life as their own characters individually. You truly believe these are personalities trapped in one man’s body.
The cataclysmic end that features all the personalities fighting for dominance is arguably one of the best moments of character acting I’ve seen on screen in a very long time. It’s one thing to convey one emotion realistically in a film but to convey 9 or so different personalities and emotions within the space of 5 minutes and to do so in a believable and frightening way is astonishing and was an absolute joy to watch. For that scene alone, this film is worth watching and McAvoy deserves an Oscar for his performance here, it was breathtaking at times.
As with any M Night. film, there is an inevitable twist but for me it actually detracted from the film. Whilst I understood the teasing toward the big surprise through the final act of the film (which I’m not going to reveal here) I didn’t actually think it was necessary. The film is so good at giving you a horrifically thrilling journey that a tranquil ending to reflect on what the characters have been through would have been more effective in my eyes. Having said that though, it was a nice touch and rounded the film off in a satisfying way.
Overall, Split is an incredible display of character acting and more importantly, a damn good thriller. Psychologically haunting, McAvoy conveys the split personality character with enough flair and intelligence to make it convincing, funny and frightening all in equal measure. The film is dripping in tension from start to finish and the uneasiness that Kevin gives off through his personalities keeps you constantly on your toes throughout. Highly recommended.