Why is it that when Beyoncé steps out on stage sporting an alter ego she’s considered a genius, fierce and a queen? But when Kevin Crumb does it, he’s thought of as cray cray? Oh okay, perhaps it’s because he’s doesn’t have so much of an alter ego as 23 distinct personalities ranging in age, gender, accents and even medical ailments. Each personality, while portrayed on screen by the ridiculously talented James McAvoy, is born from the twisted and spooktacular mind of M. Night Shyamalan. Remember him? Once upon a time, audiences craved his next plot twist, but he started losing his way and his favour with fans when he stuck Bryce Dallas Howard in the water, completed only one part of a trilogy, and then there was that Will Smith/Jaden Smith debacle. And let's not forget when he made Mark Wahlberg run from wind for an hour and a half - and I’m not talking about the kind that’s emitted by my boyfriend, although that stuff is more deadly and more entertaining than the tripe Shyamalan forced us to watch. Yet after a decent stint in television, it seemed not all was lost when he brought us a low-budget creeper in 2015 that seemed to get critics and audiences back on side. With a renewed vigour, more money and a movie star taking top billing once again, it seems like the M. Night Shyamalan of yore may be returning - he’s not quite all the way here yet, but I can see it on the horizon.
SWITCH: 'SPLIT' TRAILER 2
Teenager Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy, ‘Morgan’) is the pity-invite and outsider at a fellow student's birthday party when she accepts a lift home by Claire (Haley Lu Richards, ‘The Edge of Seventeen’) and Marcia (Jessica Sula, ‘Skins’). The girls are kidnapped when “Kevin” attacks Claire’s dad and carjacks the vehicle with the girls inside. Waking up in a strange room, the girls soon realise they’re in more trouble than they could possibly know when met by three different personalities living inside the same man - Dennis, a curt man with OCD, Miss Patricia, a terse yet nurturing English woman, and Hedwig, a 9-year-old boy who likes hotdogs, Kanye and drawing. All three personalities have “stepped into the light” as the strongest of the 23 (we get glimpses of maybe half a dozen others), in preparation for the arrival of someone new, far more sinister and terrifying known as The Beast.
What made M. Night Shyamalan so groundbreaking in the beginning was his ability to root his tales in reality - regular people capable of extraordinary acts or living extraordinary lives, knowingly or not. It’s when he ventured into the fantastical - creatures who live in apartment block pools/other realms, a vindictive mother nature, and people who bend air or whatever - that his storytelling abilities had to make way for convoluted and unappealing lore. With ‘Split’, Shyamalan seems to be straddling the two with indications that even he recognises where he’s gone awry and that he’ll returning home soon.
Shyamalan and McAvoy have worked together beautifully to allow each personality to shine in both performance and direction.
Venturing into the world of Dissociative Identity Disorder and emotionally “broken” people, Shyamalan has taken a few too many liberties writing these characters and all of their backstories to fit his narrative instead of letting nature take its course. This is where he’s gone wrong. But where he’s gone right is focusing the story not on Kevin and The Horde (as they call themselves) but on Casey, our fragile yet unknowingly strong heroine, allowing the Horde to lurk in the background, never quite knowing who’s going to show themselves. Shyamalan and McAvoy have worked together beautifully to allow each personality to shine in both performance and direction. Night’s menacing close-ups, tension building and fantastic use of space, light and shadow do well to put his audience at great unease for the whole hog - my sister and I only grabbed for each other once when suffering in silence no longer became an option.
Conclussion: M. Night Shyamalan has made his best movie in over a decade. Bring a change of underwear. And book a massage for the next morning - your shoulders will be stuck up by your ears by the end of the movie.