For those who followed M Night Shyamalan’s film career with glee, and then growing despair, there is now a flicker of hope. With Split, which came out early this year and is now on DVD, Shyamalan is back with a film that is so unpredictable and so deeply bizarre that you really have no idea what is going to happen, a trick that made the filmmaker so popular with The Sixth Sense (1999) and continued with a few subsequent films, but without as much success.
Originality is a rare quality in the film industry these days. The big films financed by American studios, and now increasingly big Chinese corporations, are formulaic and often the source material is comics or novels: few risks are taken. Independent films coming out of North America are not particularly groundbreaking, leaving independent world cinema, and now television, to really push the boundaries.
Some of Shyamalan’s films have been quite bad, and while Split is nowhere as good as The Sixth Sense, there are parts of it that are absolutely riveting. James McAvoy is the main reason for this. Playing a man with 23 different identities, McAvoy’s portrayal of Kevin Wendell Crumb is a work of true art, a feat that can only be pulled off by a thespian of the finest calibre. McAvoy has always been impressive, but with this particular role he runs the gamut from loveable to pathetic, tender to bizarre, and finally to the horrifying — and it is awesome to watch.
The story itself is a real cipher and as with many of Shyamalan’s films, it really is quite ludicrous once one snaps out of the haze of the film. However, as byzantine as it may be, the plot does compel, and the central mystery holds enough gravity to keep you focused.
There is also another phenom onscreen, the young Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Casey, a girl who is kidnapped by one of Crumb’s personalities. Plot-wise that’s as far as I can go without ruining things for you, and I hope that these little clues will interest you enough to watch this strange film, which is full of flaws and yet one of the most curious productions I’ve seen in a while.
Shyamalan wrote Split as a sequel of sorts to Unbreakable (2000). While it really isn’t a conventional sequel, there is enough in it to give way to a third, planned film, which is now in the works after the box-office success of Split. While his work is uneven, as is the case with the Shyamlans of this world, you just never quite know what you’re gonna get- and that to me is so much more interesting than the umpteenth, interminable fight sequence at the end of another Transformers movie.
You may not like Split but it will leave you wondering for hours to come. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but those with a soft spot for this kooky filmmaker will breathe a sigh of recognition.