M. Night Shyamalan continues his comeback with Split

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For almost two decades, M. Night Shyamalan has been one of the most unpredictable filmmakers in Hollywood. The writer-director-producer is known for thrillers with mind-blowing twists, but he’s also notorious for having an inconsistent career.

After The Sixth Sense was met with global success and an Oscar nomination for Best Picture in 1999, Shyamalan faced a slow decline in the reception of his subsequent films from audiences and critics alike. He earned back some of the buzz and trust that moviegoers previously invested in him with 2015’s The Visit, an indulgently fun tale of creepy grandparents. Split is another step in the right direction. Beginning with its jarring opening credits sequence, it’s a bold and confident movie that doesn’t let up, even after the lights come on.

It’s a simple plot about three girls who are abducted by a man named Kevin (James McAvoy) with 23 personalities because of his dissociative identity disorder. Sessions between Kevin and his therapist, as well as flashbacks about one of the hostages, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), are interspersed with the girls’ search for an escape from their captor. The script is one of Shyamalan’s best, with brilliantly quick exposition that simultaneously informs the audience and creates tension.

The film handles its subject matter well; viewers should be warned that the most difficult material it takes on isn’t its antagonist’s mental disorder. Split is a hard PG-13 movie with a story that goes to surprising thematic places without putting on the brakes, which might seem off-putting to some and audacious to others.

All of Split’s story is superbly acted by the entire cast. McAvoy’s performance has generated a large portion of the film’s praise. In a pivotal role, he effectively portrays each identity as a fully formed person, and does so with such nuance that each personality could fill an entire movie. The film’s January release date is a shame, as McAvoy likely won’t receive much formal recognition for his Oscar-worthy portrayal of Kevin.

After a breakout performance in The Witch last year, Anya-Taylor Joy continues to establish herself as a quality scream queen in her understated turn as Casey. The supporting cast is on point as well, and the movie benefits from its focus on such a small group. Split never stops giving in its technical aspects either.

The cinematography is graciously captured byMike Gioulakis, who worked on It Follows, and he echoes the inventive static and tracking shots that defined that movie’s atmosphere. Every frame has something interesting to look at. New composer West Dylan Thordson provides a fantastic soundtrack that’s unnerving when it needs to be, but also gives Split its emotional core.

The only time Split stumbles is in a brief crossing of some campy lines in its third act, but that’s one speck in the larger whole of a magnetic, gorgeous thriller. It’s the perfect solution to the lack of well-made movies at this time of year, and an impressive chapter in what will hopefully become a Shyamalan renaissance (B+).