Chris Kavan - wrote on 02/13/17
I said this before in my short review of The Visit from 2015 - I had pretty much written off M. Night Shyamalan after his declining efforts after The Village - ending with the one-two crapfest that was The Last Airbender and After Earth. But The Visit lifted my hopes that maybe Shyamalan was getting back to his roots - back in the game, so to speak and after Split I'm sold that he has righted the ship and is sailing once again towards victory.
Split works for two main reasons: one, James McAvoy is supremely cast as the main character(s) - he plays eight different personalities (some only briefly, but even so) and he manages to give each one a great spin. You have Dennis, the strong enforcer with OCD, Patricia - a very Norman Bates/Mother like personality, Barry, a fashion designer and Hedwig, a nine-year-old with a penchant for Kanye West and crude drawings. The main three personalities have all formed an alliance of sorts - Dennis and Patricia have long been kept dormant for having more violent tendencies, as well as a cult-like following of The Beast - a boogeyman of sorts that serves as hidden personality. Thanks to Hedwig - they have taken over, and suppressed the other more rational personalities.
The other reason the film works is that the story is tense. This is a psychological thriller and it keeps you on edge. Our friend with 23 distinct personalities has kidnapped three women (played by Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) with Joy's character of the outcast Casey Cooke the only one who seemingly understands their situation. While she attempts to reason with some of the personalities, in the outside world Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) suspects that "Barry" is not the personality he says he is after receiving increasingly frantic emails about emergency meetings. She is also an outcast in that he has proposed a radical idea that personalities in people with dissociative identity disorder can actually open up parts of the mind that regular people cannot as a result of their trauma.
The film uses real-life cases (such as a personality that is allergic to bee stings while others are not, or a blind French woman who can actually see when other personalities take over) to argue her case. Meanwhile, the girls held captive find their chances of escape diminish with each failed attempt, even as Patricia, Dennis and Hedwig plan for the arrival of the fabled Beast.
In the end, Split delivers one heck of a ride and the twist end is the best kind of surprise - one that ties in to an existing story and promises even greater things to come. Shyamalan has found his groove and I think his redemption can be confirmed.