If you know me, you know how hard its been to not review Split. I know it’s been out a while and some people were puzzled at the vacant presence of my opinion to M Night’s latest. Let me just say this: I needed to see Split more than a couple times to really put my words on paper for it. So at long last, here we go.
DISCLAIMER: *There are no spoilers here, I have another post for all that goodness.*
Channeling a Hitchcockian stillness while playing in a genre kingdom of his own making, M. Night Shyamalan reestablishes himself with “Split,” the director’s return to form film. A horror film that hides itself as a dramatic thriller, revealing its chilling secrets with creeping intensity, “Split” is an effortlessly riveting, completely engrossing work of cinema.
Beginning by introducing a terrifying event into a banal afternoon, “Split” swings a narrative hammer that revolves around man whose dissociative identity disorder leads him to commit violent acts. As a psychologist attempts to comfort and control him, the man’s varying personalities wait for the coming of something monstrous.
The story’s secrets will not be revealed here, but they are compelling to say the least. Observing mental illness and mental fracture, the narrative paints an enlightened image of disorder and examines the results of mental and physical trauma. It observes the personas of victim, enabler, and perpetrator, and it observes the raging mix of characters that one mind can conjure. These observations give the film a particular depth that is both layered and invitingly melodramatic, even for a top notch M. Night film.
As usual, Shyamalan frames his story in a landscape that is vibrant and textured. Shadows and shapes pour from corridors and corners, creating a sense of mystery. Unlike his last few movies, editing is sharp, and shot selection, while straightforward, builds a dramatic energy. Shyamalan conducts the work an operatic intensity whose rhythmic tension is delicious and a call to the previous, previous Night works.
Aside from composition and cutting, the key to that tension is James McAvoy who creates such palpable characters as the DID afflicted man that the audience expects more than one antagonist to be haunting the film’s locations. His performance is chilling and dynamic. He is able to cause fear one moment and empathy the next; and, as with the production and story, there is something operatic about the character. McAvoy communicates that quality with ease. Anya Taylor-Joy also fulfills a rewarding arc as a foil to McAvoy’s divided character.
Potently impactful and appealing, “Split” is a fine piece of work. Shyamalan assembles something with impassioned grace and grit, while developing a tangible sense of tension. It is an all-enveloping experience that thrills, shocks, and, ultimately, surprises.
After thinking long and hard, I would call Split M. Night Shyamalan’s Silence of the Lambs; a tight, confined chiller premise infused with empathetic intimacy. Shyamalan has never been a genre auteur, but a genre doctor, diving into various ideas and flavors and breathing a personal touch into their framework. The Sixth Sense isn’t *just* a ghost story, Signs isn’t *just* an alien invasion picture, The Visit isn’t *just* a handheld/found footage exercise; they’re all explorations of trauma and grief, of lost time and how it passes by like seasons in the year, of cinema’s capacity to merge a thrill with a tear.
Welcome back M. Night. Now please, don’t leave again.