Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Run Time: 117 minutes
There was a time when a new movie by M. Night Shyamalan was cause for rejoice.
From 1999 to 2002, Shymalan ruled the multiplex, delivering chills and twists that few fans saw coming. His films The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs elevated genre cinema to a new plateau. Then the bottom fell out, the twists became expected and the glory of box-office blockbuster gold seemed to stifle Shyamalan's natural storytelling ability.
In 2015, two years after a spectacular summer blockbuster misfire, Shyamalan quietly returned to his roots with The Visit, a found-footage frightfest that not only re-introduced the writer-director to a new generation of fans, but also proved to be a genuinely unsettling cinematic experience - right up until the last 10 minutes, when Shyamalan's tendency to overshare in exposition also returned in spades.
But still, The Visit gave hope that the director might finally understand what audiences want and expect from him.
Enter Split, and all the promise of 2015 has rightfully been made whole.
Split is Shyamalan's best film since 2002's Signs, hands down. It's the work of a confident maestro knowing exactly which notes to emphasize and when best to let the band play loud and fast. It's also a cinematic peak for star James McAvoy, who commands nearly every frame of the film as Kevin, a young man beset with dissociative identity disorder struggling to control 23 separate and distinct personalities. McAvoy is nothing short of amazing.
It helps that Shyamalan wisely chose Anya Taylor-Joy, the breakout star of The Witch, to play Casey, one of three young girls kidnapped by McAvoy's Dennis, the co-mastermind of the personalities. Taylor-Joy is up for the challenge, and stands toe to toe with McAvoy and his various personalities throughout the film.
Shyamalan, much as he did in Signs, offers a backstory, told in flashbacks, to further draw the audience to Casey's plight. It's both heartbreaking and wickedly ironic given the situation she finds herself in, contending with a monster of a different breed.
Split is an intricately-constructed mystery box that never overplays its hand. It hints and posits of possible horrors to come, but doesn't overstate them so once they arrive, they don't disappoint. For once, Shyamalan doesn't feel the need to explain every single detail to his audience, allowing the viewer's imagination to run free. He also deftly handles a couple of tricky moments that might have doomed this picture the same way the last 10 minutes crippled The Visit.
If you're wondering, the answer is yes - it wouldn't be an M. Night Shyamalan film without a twist, but in this case, the twist is one you will never, ever see coming. In fact, it's so well-done, so masterfully and organically inserted in the very final frame, that there were audible gasps in the theater, not to mention a lot of enthusiastic clapping and cheering.
It's like a gift to longtime fans, this twist, and hopefully, fingers crossed, a portent of where Shyamalan might next turn his focus. Suffice to say, without spoiling this amazing treat, when all is said and Dunn, Shyamalan shatters his own Glass ceiling and ramps up expectations for what his future may hold.
Split opens in theaters nationwide on Thursday, January 19, 2017.