Split (2016)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Writer: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula

Cert: 15

Split is a fantastic, energetic paranormal thriller which reminds us that Shyamalan is one of the best at what he does.

M. Night Shyamalan returns to the form which gained him recognition, with Split; a moody, suspenseful, atmospheric thriller, in line with his previous paranormal mysteries such as The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and The Village (2004). This is Shyamalan after more than 2 decades of experience, and as a result Split feels glossy and sleek and confident in its own ability. It’s a blockbuster which manages to keep all of the key recognisable elements which make Shyamalan’s films electrifying and gripping.

Split centres around the kidnapping of 3 young women, the culprit being the character played by James McAvoy. The lead role created for Split could be described as the ‘holy grail’, and McAvoy dives headfirst into the chance to play a man with 23 separate personalities, many of which are aggressively vying for control. McAvoy is phenomenal in his role, or rather roles; the 7 or 8 which he predominantly displays are all fascinatingly diverse and idiosyncratic. More impressive though is his transitioning between personalities, which is simply breath-taking to witness. McAvoy is an actor who is utterly in command of his emotions and body language, and can convey exactly which personality is currently in control with surgical precision and timing, right in front of the audience’s eyes. His co-star - our heroine - Anya Taylor-Joy provides an equally intense and emotive performance as the damaged, socially awkward Casey Cooke, conveying her character’s courage and confusion in the midst of such a horrific situation quite brilliantly and, at times, distressingly. Taylor-Joy’s co-captors - played by Richardson and Sula - provide a contrast to her collectedness with their convincingly panicked performances, and Buckley is superb as the foward-thinking therapist to McAvoy’s disturbed character. In all, this is a performance led movie, which can boast a full-house of superb portrayals.

Split blurs the line between thriller and horror, particularly concerning the film’s subject matter which often comes quite near the knuckle. Narratively, Split is much more brutal than Shyamalan’s previous films, and can, at times, be uncomfortable to watch. Cooke’s backstory is revealed to us in a series of cryptic flashbacks, exposing some unsettling revelations and more sensitive viewers should be aware that Split broaches some difficult subjects and distressing situations. In regards to its cinematography, the film goes from creepy to downright terrifying in its closing minutes, becoming a racing, claustrophobic pursuit. The film’s consistently steady pace is accelerated and the already high stakes are raised higher still. By this point, the audience is ready for their fraying nerves to be finally shredded, and Split delivers a superbly pulse-racing and excruciatingly tense climax.

Split is far from resolved by the film’s end, but as it ‘sheds the light’ on many aspects of the story, viewers can feel sufficiently satisfied by the rollercoaster ride on which they have been taken. Shyamalan fan’s might be disappointed by the absence of a famous jaw-dropping Shyamalan twist or ‘big-reveal’, but may be appeased by a nod to fans and a potential (now confirmed) sequel in the closing seconds of Split. Regardless, Shyamalan has returned with a stunningly menacing and unforgiving thriller which will both fascinate and terrify.

In one line: Bursting with suspense and energy, Split is a wildly interesting paranormal thriller, but with some subject matter which some may find upsetting.

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