by RYAN FITZGERALD//Staff Writer
M. Night Shyamalan has returned to the big screen with his best film since “Signs.”
In a redeeming fashion, Shyamalan offers up “Split,” making up for a recent spell of less than stellar films.
In Shyamalan’s prime, he introduced psychological thrillers such as “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” “Signs,” and even “The Village.” However, in the mid-2000s, he hit a snag. In 2006, “Lady in the Water” won the Razzie Award for Worst Director and the Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Least Scary Horror Film. In 2009, Shyamalan’s film, “The Happening,” won Worst Film from film magazine Fangoria, during their annual Chainsaw Awards.
The following year, Shyamalan’s interpretation of “The Last Airbender” may have been the final straw. Terrible acting, terrible special effects, and a plot that made little or no sense, led the “The Last Airbender” to a 6-percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The A.V. Club gave the film an F – staking the claim that “The Last Airbender” was the worst summer blockbuster of 2010. Additionally, esteemed film critic Roger Ebert gave the film half a star.
Following the disaster that was “The Last Airbender,” Shyamalan fell flat over and over again. “Devil” was no blockbuster hit. “After Earth” was received poorly by critics and still holds a favorable film score of 11 percent at Rotten Tomatoes – turning out to be a film that even Will Smith couldn’t save.
However, as of January 2017, Shyamalan may have found his niche once again. Shyamalan’s lastest film, “Split,” is one of the best of his career – easily his best film in the past decade.
The film focuses on the character of Casey Cooke, played by Anya Taylor-Joy – a distant teenager – a quiet, outsider-looking-in type whose troubled past keeps her from connecting with the modern teenager. Instead, it drives her surreal take on life, beyond that of the hopes and dreams of a simple 16 year old.
Invited to a birthday party (simply out of pity), Casey and two of her classmates are kidnapped by a mysterious figure, later revealed to be Kevin Wendell Crumb – a man suffering from severe dissociative identity disorder, whose mind and body are split between 23 multiple personalities.
Viewers are then taken on a simultaneous journey through the lives of Casey and Kevin – from Casey’s time as a young girl, spending the days outdoors with her uncle and father, up until his death. Then there is Kevin’s battle of balancing, appeasing and controlling each of the personalities that stake claim to him.
James McAvoy offers the best performance of his career as Kevin. Though he makes a great Charles Xavier in the “X-Men” franchise, he took his abilities to a whole new level. Every single personality that Kevin exudes is another role, another character that McAvoy has to master.
Anya Taylor-Joy plays the perfect outcast. Her character’s temperament, contrasted with the stereotypical teenage disposition of her two classmates, contributes to the suspense, while also bringing comfort. Despite the unknown, despite the current circumstance and situation, she’s always thinking, calculating and trying to process the mystery that is playing out around her.
She finds herself navigating these distinct personalities with care and precise consideration for each of their individualities. She juggles between “Hedwig,” a 9 year-old who claims to know the secret to escaping, and “Miss Patricia,” a very prim and proper mother figure who oversees the amount of exposure each personality bears in Kevin’s life.
Shyamalan really out does himself as a director to bring about the suspense and thrill of the film. He toys with the audience’s perspective through a mixture of point-of-view and overhead shots. He rapidly changes the visual focus, setting up sequences and pacing that continually build tension until the end. In Shyamalan’s own way, the film shares a special ending with viewers – a clever twist, directly related to the plot, which serves as the foundation for what may become his own cinematic universe.
“Split” is fantastic – quality acting, sharp cinematography, and imposing sound design, all blended with a narrative that is nothing short of a supervillain origin story. Shyamalan mixes the supernatural with real-world scares. The film sits at the intersection where a viewer’s emotional investment crosses with the desire to be pulled into a story where the outcome isn’t entirely a result of the actions and decisions of its characters.
I give “Split” four out of five stars.