Well, I can say I’m looking forward to whatever M. Night Shyamalan does next… For the first time since middle school.
“Split” opens with a mysterious man named Kevin (James McAvoy) abducting three teenagers, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula). They wake up in a mysterious basement and learn that Kevin has Dissociative Identity Disorder, possessing 23 personalities. Meanwhile, Kevin’s therapist (Betty Buckley) suspects Kevin of hiding something sinister.
Shyamalan has fallen on hard times between the polarizing “The Village,” self-indulgent “Lady in the Water,” plain stupid “The Happening,” and flops “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth.” I missed “The Visit,” but “Split” is a return to form.
Shyamalan has a few of his usual flaws, like the quirky side characters, exposition-fueled monologues, and overly intelligent kids, but he makes it work. The quirks tie to the characters’ back stories, the exposition is fascinating and authentic, and the intelligent kids defy the usual dumb horror kids.
Shyamalan goes down some dark paths, exploring trauma, sexual abuse, and even cannibalism, but none of it is done for shock value. This is a character study of Kevin and Casey. They are both victims and understand each other. Casey not only learns how to trick Kevin through his personalities, but she learns what makes him tick, tying to her past.
I was worried about “Split” because I thought it would be an insensitive stereotypical depiction of mental illness, but it’s surprisingly sensitive. Each personality is a guard for Kevin, but only three of Kevin’s personalities are villainous. The rest want to help him and we can’t help but root for Kevin at times.
McAvoy brings his A-game as Kevin, Dennis, Barry, Miss Patricia, Hedwig, and The Beast. I know it’s a January horror movie, but this is a performance that should be considered for awards. For an egomaniac director such as Shyamalan, this isn’t his movie at all. It’s McAvoy’s.
Plot twist? Oh, yes. But you’ll have to find out for yourself.