Arguably the master of the movie twist, director M. Night Shyamalan delivered possibly the most unexpected twist of all at the end of Split; one that nobody saw coming. In the closing moments, it was revealed that Split did in fact exist in the same universe as Unbreakable, Shyamalan’s alternative superhero masterpiece. If your average cinemagoer was perhaps perplexed by the sudden appearance of Bruce Willis, fans were sent into a frenzy over the fact this film was in some ways a sequel to the aforementioned film, and of course, this has paved the way for the upcoming Glass.
Up until this point however, Split is of course a film which can stand on its own, and whilst its denouement was thrilling, it has enough merit to allow it to exist as its own “beast” if you will.
Arguably the finest performance of his career, James McAvoy is on astonishing form as Kevin Wendell Crumb and his many, many iterations and personalities. It takes a special kind of actor to be able to create such subtle differences between them, and switch on a dime as well. There is one scene in particular when he is talking to his psychiatrist (Betty Buckley), pretending to be one personality and trying to convince her that she is talking to that person. She sees through this however, and with just the slightest physicality, McAvoy transforms before our very eyes to the real personality he is at that moment, to the point where it instantly feels like we are watching another character. It is hard to describe, but this really is a performance which needs to be seen to be believed, and honestly, in the hands of another actor, it could have bordered on the ridiculous.
Aside from McAvoy’s performance however, there is so much to be appreciated about this film. Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey proves once again to be a force to be reckoned with, and despite the many personalities of James McAvoy, she is able to remain at the forefront. In many ways, this is her story, and her performance is powerfully resonant. It is through this performance that one of the key messages of the film is anchored, that being that it is the broken people that are the strongest.
Particularly on a rewatch, I found this notion incredibly compelling. Fittingly for the film’s title, it is also a message which has a dual meaning. For Kevin, his brokenness manifests in the many facets of his personality and of course we see his incredible strength through the 24th personality, known simply as “The Beast”. For Casey however, she has been the victim of childhood sexual abuse and trauma, which has in many ways left her broken. But through this brokenness, she shows incredible strength and resilience, and it is because of her abuse scars that he is able to “defeat” the Beast as it were.
Split as a standalone film, is arguably Shyamalan’s best since Unbreakable and certainly marked the true return to form for the director who had made a slew of critically panned films prior to this. Whilst it certainly has strength as a standalone film, the decision to make it part of a much wider story is a fascinating one, and with McAvoy and Taylor-Joy both returning in Glass, it seems there is much more of this story to tell.
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley