Ho. Lee. Shit!
Misdirection is writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s greatest tool as a filmmaker. He uses it like a chef uses a knife in a kitchen. The man aims to make movies that nobody else has made yet, and while elements of horror are sprinkled throughout his body of work, there’s a genuine dose of heartfelt drama at the core of his stories. Sometimes, the guy just likes to freak you out. His latest film-Split-does just that, and contains a twist that is going to BLOW YOUR MIND in the very last scene.
That’s right. Shyamalan, nearly 18 years later, has created a twist that pulls the rug out from under you even if you go into the film looking for it. Fellow film critic Landon Burris told that there was a mega twist waiting for me at the end, and I still didn’t see the guy coming. Up until that knockout punch, James McAvoy had anchored this gripping thriller.
The actor has put together a very good career, including not just a young Charles Xavier aka Professor X, but also roles in Last King of Scotland and Atonement. Split is easily McAvoy’s greatest achievement as an actor. How many actors could pull off a role of a troubled war vet with 23 personalities, one of whom has kidnapped three girls and held them hostage in a mysterious basement? The answer is few, and only one or two could pull off this role like the British actor could.
There’s Barry, a loquacious artist with a New York accent. Hedwig is a nine year boy that doesn’t know right from wrong, but can’t be fooled either. Patricia is a stern matriarch, and Dennis the madman with an obsession for teenage girls. Throughout this film, the personalities battle each other and the three girls that range from frantic(Haley Lu Richardson’s Claire and Jessica Sula’s Marica) to quiet yet practical(Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey). The girls try to work together to stop the many speeds of McAvoy’s Kevin, but have to deal with the intertwined efforts of his many minds. It’s a good ride for the audience to take.
Throughout the film, we hear about a potential 24th personality, and one that can take the shape of “a beast”. This also puts a clock on the girls breakout efforts, and that is attached to a subplot involving Kevin’s caring therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher(Betty Buckley). Can the four women find a way to befall a man with so many personalities? Shyamalan never fails to build tension like an artist slowly moving a brush around a canvas. He never feels rushed in his movies, and it aides the whodunit of this plot.
The filmmaker also doesn’t waste budget on well known actors. The young females who play the hostages are mostly unknown, and the supporting players aren’t big names either. Last year’s The Visit’s biggest star was Kathryn Hahn, and that helped the shock and awe of the twist at the end of that film.
Over the years, Shyamalan has taken flack for being “The Twist Doctor”, and it’s a warranted perception. He completed a three peat of films(The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs) that few directors have pulled off, but he created an anticipation that crippled his following efforts with The Village, The Happening, and Lady in the Water. With The Visit, he started a comeback that has been fully realized with Split.
Before the big twist-which I am dying to talk about and may write about later-the film produced a solid conclusion that would have satisfied me if that were all. Before the credits rolled though, Shyamalan hit me where I least expected it, and it all started with a score. After all these years and films, M. Night can still pull a fast one on his audience.
If you weren’t among the 40 million plus to see this film last weekend, I urge you to reconsider and check this film out. Shyamalan aims to create a specific brand of entertainment that hasn’t been put out to the masses just yet. He doesn’t want to do what others have done; he wants to do way better. That visionary firepower should be applauded and aspired to by other auteurs.
I can’t properly explain how good McAvoy is. The fact that it’s a horror/thriller in January will hinder the actor’s chances of award recognition, but he’s truly deserving. Playing so many different minds while not changing his appearance isn’t easy, and making the audience feel for you while they fear you is a hard task that McAvoy succeeds at. Wow is the idea.
See Split for the thrills, McAvoy, and the twist, but stay for the discussion Shyamalan will ultimately begin in your head and among your friends and family who see it. Great films get you talking. This one definitely starts a fire in your head. Using his greatest tool-misdirection-Shyamalan has confounded audiences once again.