Ever since The Happening, every new M. Night Shyamalan movie has been met with cynicism. His last film The Visit was surprisingly well received, however, and so was Split, a horror thriller starring James McAvoy as a man with 23 split personalities who kidnaps three teenagers.
The serial killer premise sets the tone for the rest of the film, which is easily one of Shyamalan's creepiest efforts. We follow Kevin (McAvoy) as he incarcerates three innocent girls while still attending his psychiatrist's sessions. Meanwhile, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and the other two teens try to figure out what's going on and look for a way to escape. Some of Kevin's personalities include a 9 year-old kid called Hedwig, the super intimidating Dennis and female mastermind Patricia. Your enjoyment of this film will depend completely on how you rate James McAvoy's performance which is both excellent but also wacky as hell. A lesser actor could have easily rendered Split either unwatchable or made it unintentionally hilarious. Luckily, James McAvoy is good as all his different characters and his random antics are an effective contrast to the genuinely unnerving plot.
Betty Buckley plays Kevin's psychiatrist Dr. Karen Fletcher and although she is an important character, perhaps a little too much time is spent with her as she explains to us what this special case of split personalities is all about like it's the doctor's end speech in Psycho or something. That said, Hitchcock's classic was certainly an inspiration for Split as Kevin is both frightening and tragic and the film builds up to some nifty twists. Speaking of which, fans of M. Night Shyamalan's earlier films should find themselves confused yet intrigued by the bold final twist which suggests a possible sequel. This is a simple yet well made film with a compelling central performance and some really dark moments, hinting that Shyamalan is ready to freak us out a few more times. This may not be the director's masterpiece but it's a step in the right direction and it's a fun, if grim, watch.
Good horror movies in January are a rarity but this is one that gets the job done: unsettling, ridiculous, bizarre, this is M. Night Shyamalan at his most sadistic and I, for one, can't wait to see what he has in store for future follow-ups.