Critic’s Corner: “Split”

Michael Ambrosino, General Manager, Entertainment Editor

Following the holidays and a couple months of great and awards-y films, studios typically release their crummier products with little expectation in January.

Not only does this January’s “Split” turn that on its head, it also makes for a stimulating opening to what’s highly anticipated to be a great year for cinema.

“Split” is filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan’s latest effort and easily his best, most accomplished film since his 1999 masterwork “The Sixth Sense.” It’s a stunning return-to-form for the director, having been through a decade of awfully negative reviews and laughter among many audience members. Films like “The Happening,” “Lady in the Water,” “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth” found the director in a rough state. Now, as Shyamalan goes smaller and leaner in his storytelling, we audience members – as if we’re proud mothers of the filmmaker – are happy to have been brought back to his better days of “Signs” and “The Sixth Sense.”

Even though I felt this way when Shyamalan released “The Visit” in 2015, “Split” is a better movie that proves he’s still a strong presence in the industry. He is a director of great skill with an irresistible passion for storytelling.

“Split” is a creepy, enigmatic little thriller. It follows three teenaged girls who are held in captivity by Kevin, played by James McAvoy, a man who suffers from a severe case of dissociative identity disorder. Two of his 24 personalities, Dennis and Patricia, warn the girls that they are sacred food for “the beast,” who is soon ready to rise from the darkness and feed on them.

As the girls attempt to make their escape and some of Kevin’s other personalities reveal themselves, the film’s intensity heightens enormously and builds to a scary, suspense-fueled, emotionally involving finale.

I loved every minute of “Split.” It’s a taut, punch-to-the-gut thriller with a mesmerizing lead performance (err, performances) by James McAvoy. He is absolutely astounding here, giving each personality the life and creepy-funny ambience they need to keep the audience both gripping their seats and laughing uncomfortably.

When the last couple of minutes come rolling around, you’ll be surprised by how caught up you are in the film’s dramatic current. There’s a very intense, very powerful scene in which Kevin’s character switches personalities again and again in the matter of seconds. It’s a beautifully directed sequence that resonates with intense emotion. There’s an element of tragedy involving Kevin’s character that works in the film’s favor.   

“Split” is a wonderful thriller worth seeing while it’s in theaters. It’s shot beautifully, suspense is built confidently and McAvoy’s performance is something to experience. If you’ve been following Shyamalan’s career, “Split” has some big surprises for you.