After falling off a cliff in terms of the quality of his films, Writer-Director M. Night Shyamalan has begun making a small comeback. That comeback continues with Split, a psychological thriller that in its final two minutes becomes something else entirely.
The story centers on James McAvoy’s Kevin, a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and twenty-three distinct personalities dwelling inside him. Now, a few of his more destructive personalities are attempting to bring forth a twenty-fourth identity called The Beast. This final identity will be a super-powered juggernaut, as—according to the film—a person’s mind can alter its body’s physicality and chemistry to match whichever identity “has the light,” as Kevin’s psychiatrist (Betty Buckley) puts it. In order to facilitate The Beast’s birth, some “pure” girls need to be sacrificed, so one of Kevin’s identities, Dennis, kidnaps three teens: Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), who, we learn through flashbacks, has her own traumatic past. Will the girls escape before The Beast emerges or will Kevin be lost forever? And what is this awesome ending that people who have seen the film keep hinting at?
Know this: everyone involved in this film does a fine job to make a middling psychological thriller that is ultimately elevated beyond its station by two things: 1. James McAvoy’s amazing performance and 2. The twist ending. McAvoy is absolutely incredible portraying all of Kevin’s different identities that make it to the screen—we end up seeing about eight of them. Anya Taylor-Joy is good as well, but this is totally McAvoy’s show. I thought the film was just okay as a thriller. It has an interesting premise, but the girls make some typical dumb decisions that crop up in films like this and some of the tension is undermined by the fact that the girls are not to be harmed until The Beast is ready to emerge. I kept being reminded of 10 Cloverfield Lane, which had a similar claustrophobic feel of people trapped with a dangerous person, but that film handled everything much more skillfully. So, Split is a decent thriller with a killer lead performance. But what about that ending?
Still here? Okay. The big secret that is revealed in the final two minutes of the film is that, you weren’t watching a standalone thriller, but instead, a supervillain origin film set in the Unbreakable universe. That revelation completely turned the film on its head and also set the stage for a proper sequel to Unbreakable, which Shyamalan says he is starting to work on—finally. So, while the twist isn’t really inherent to the plot of the film, it manages to make the whole endeavor that much cooler once it is revealed.
So, I found Split to be a pretty good flick. It has plenty of dumb moments, but the ending and McAvoy’s creepy performance make it all worth it.