Make no mistake: M. Night Shyamalan’s Split is going to frustrate people on a number of levels (one particular level that I cannot get into here for about another week). The movie’s subject matter is tricky and disturbing (perhaps in a way not seen since some of his earliest work). The script balances converging storylines well (as there are at least three) without feeling bloated. The movie is wonderfully shot, still Shyamalan but without the long cuts. The acting is superb. James McAvoy is brilliant in his ability to change character on a dime. Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays the movie’s female lead, does so much while saying so little. The story is full of palpable tension, which is really what Shyamalan does best (which is why he has always been more suspense than horror to me). Little details unfold in subtle ways. Particular moments in the movie’s climax that could easily derail the story and take the viewer out of the flow were well-managed. And what’s best is that it’s a story that doesn’t need a twist ending.
Whatever else the movie is, it is the kind of movie that I would love to talk to others about. The question of the nature of humanity is front and center in a way that is pertinent to contemporary conversations about the self. It will be interesting to see how Shyamalan defends the movie to its critics, those who find the subject matter offensive or insensitive (regardless of any storytelling intent). If this movie had been made five or ten years ago, the clamor would be less. It’s a testament, particularly in light of the movie’s final scene, to how much culture has changed.
I saw an early showing of the movie. I was surprised at how full the theater ended up being. I was a little worried because the crowd was of the talking kind. As the movie moved past the first scenes (mostly seen in the trailer), the audience quieted and focused. And while one person behind me was asleep in the movie’s final third, the rest of the audience seemed either riveted (lulled by the movie’s uncomfortable sense of humor) or respectful (of the movie’s tense and unsettling conclusion).
To say that the movie ended in a way that I did not see coming would be an understatement. Oh, that final shot! It was the first time in a good while that I left the theater with a genuine smile on my face and some (particular) music in my heart, which probably seems odd considering the subject matter. But for those who trust Shyamalan and understand genre, the smile and the song might be understandable.