Guess who’s back? Back again? M. Night’s Back. Tell a Friend. After the absolutely raucous horror film that was “The Visit,” M. Night has returned once again to deliver another fine chiller. Rather than opting for simplicity again, “Split” is a much more abstract tale about childhood trauma, mental illness, and the power of belief that can power us in to manifesting elements within us we never knew existed. M. Night seems to have a great faith in the ability of the mind, and how it can overcome certain obstacles and evolve in to various forms greater than itself. Almost every movie from M. Night has been a study of the human mind in some form, and “Split” is no different.
M. Night manages to capture the horror of mental illness without stigmatizing it or turning it in to a gimmick, focusing on character Kevin. As played brilliantly by James McAvoy, Kevin is a young man stricken with dissociative identity disorder, a very controversial and long studied mental illness where the individual assumes the personality of multiple people. Kevin is a young man who has taken on more than two dozen, many of whom are struggling to dominate his psyche. After an awkward birthday party with her art class, Casey is given no choice but to take a ride with her two classmates, both of whom have little liking toward her. Kevin proceeds to kidnap all three girls and bring them back in to his chamber where he has plans that are baffling to the girls from the moment they awaken. Soon they begin to observe and bear witness to Kevin’s multiple personalities and characters, and begin to try for an escape.
But Casey, who is also filled with a dark past, seems keen on observing Kevin and is anxious to try to figure out what he is, before she can flee. Time is running out though, when Kevin insists “The Beast” is coming. McAvoy is the heart and soul of “Split,” providing a multi layered and brutally complex portrayal of a man who can change his persona at the drop of a hat, and almost always seems on the verge of murdering his captives. With his knack for assuming various roles, the attempts to work around him become so much trickier for Casey. Anya Taylor Joy is equally superb in her role as the very unusual protagonist Casey who is suffering from her own tumultuous life and is forced to confront this maniac who reveals dimensions that puzzle her on how to approach him and if she should even risk fighting for survival at all. M. Night is able to derive a lot of energy and excellent moments from McAvoy who dives head first in to what could have been a goofy and campy role.
He allows Kevin to not only become a villain, but someone we may also empathize with. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Betty Buckley who is probably the final strand in the sanity in Kevin’s life. She’s one of the many emotional branches in the narrative not only lending Kevin some pathos, but also helping fog up the mystery. She is one who has a chance to reach Kevin before he goes too far, and her mission becomes quite tense as the clock runs out. “Split,” like most other M. Night Shyamalan films, is a labyrinth of plot elements, character explorations, and yet another peek in to the darkness of humanity and how powerful the mind can be. It’s a marvelous thriller with fantastic twists, stellar performances, and is a return to form for M. Night who offers up his most cerebral tale yet.