Director M. Night Shyamalan has gotten a bit of a bum rap in the past decade or so. After hitting such heights with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable the man couldn’t pull a good movie out of his ass even if he ate The Godfather frame by frame.
But after the pleasant surprise that was The Visit, I was hopeful that he could keep the train going and I’m happy to say that he seems to be on the right track.
After being abducted along with her two friends, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) comes to the realization that her abductor(s) is a man (James McAvoy) who suffers from multiple personality disorder. 23 to be exact; some helpful, like Hedwig, some not so much, like Ms. Patricia. While Casey does have to come to terms with her past, she has to figure out which personality is a friend, while another may emerge and cause chaos.
Shaymalan has always excelled as both a writer and director when his films deal with ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Split almost plays like a chamber piece, one location, but not quite. The film is more intimate, nearly uncomfortably so.
Taking a cue from Hitchcock, there are some very uncomfortable themes at play, but Shaymalan doesn’t exploit it. I do wish this was explored just a bit more, but to do so would overshadow the story, and even the performances.
James McAvoy, its safe to say now, is the most underrated actor of his generation. The role(s) as presented are daunting for any actor to play, and McAvoy manages to pull it off. His performance, if it faltered, would have made the film come to a screeching halt. There were parts where I felt terror in his acting. Believe me, its a lot more difficult than can be credited.
Also the role of Dr. Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley, is the absolute perfect supporting performance to McAvoy. What should have a been an exposition role, Buckley managed to sell the concept of the story. There is such a quiet passion in the role, such dedication to her character that it makes the suspension of disbelief, well, believable.
Shaymalan is back in form here, proving that he needs to make more films on an intimate, human scale. Extravagance was never his strong suit, his characters were. While this may not be his best film, but it sure as hell beats everything he’s done in the past decade. And if you’re a fan of his early work, you owe it to yourself to see this one. Trust me on this.