Rated PG-13, 117 minutes
OK, let's just get it out of the way up front: yes, there's a twist in M. Night Shyalaman's chilling, well-acted new psychological horror film "Split" - well, maybe more of a big cameo - but more on that later. Even more memorable is the tour de force turn from lead actor James McAvoy as the guy with split personalities and Shyalman's creepy use of close, tight spaces, marking a great return to form for the director best known for "The Sixth Sense."
While the mental divisions of those with dissociative identity disorder have long fascinated and eluded science, it is believed that some can also manifest unique physical attributes for each personality, a cognitive and physiological prism within a single being. Though Kevin (McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (the excellent Betty Buckley), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey ("The Witch's" Anya Taylor-Joy), Kevin reaches a war for survival with himself, as the walls between his compartments shatter apart.
Directed, written and co-produced by Shyamalan (along with horror Jason Blum), the edgy "Split" is certainly one of the most original psychological horror tales to come along in some time, and Shyamalan's skillful direction imbues with a nice sense of intensity and a creepy feeling. One of cinema's most subversive and also divisive directors, he's still in redemption mode after hitting it big with "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs" and then failing big with such huge flops as "The Last Airbender" and "After Earth," he began his comeback with the smart 2015 horror hit "The Visit."
Like that film, "Split" is a low-budget production with Blumhouse Productions, responsible for such horror franchises as "Insidious" and "The Purge," and Shyamalan is wise to stick with low-budget, edgier productions such as this before revisiting big budget productions again. It also helps it's superbly acted by McAvoy, and his triumphant performance here is also a disturbing one as he tackles this huge, hammy part with aplomb, bringing multiple personalities, including Dennis, Barry, Patricia, Hedwig and the Beast all to life.
I also loved seeing Buckley (who needs to do more film), best known for stage productions such as "Cats" and TV - she'll always be the Mom from the show "Eight is Enough" - as his understanding therapist, and Buckley's sensible, warm Dr. Fletcher is as sturdy and grounded as McAvoy is jumpy and all over the place. Young Taylor-Joy also has some good moments as the young teen who may be as tortured as Kevin is.
Provocative, disturbing and filled with an extremely chilling last act that will have you on the edge of your seat, "Split" is also a tad too long and drawn out and Shyamalan could've easily tightened the middling second act, but it's still worthwhile. Stay until the last shot, and you see the fun twist : a cameo from a huge, big name movie star that's a nice tribute to Shyamalan's earlier work, and those familiar with his films will pick up on it instantly. Also a bit unnecessary, but enjoyable enough it doesn't throw the film off.
"Split" is a satisfying, original horror film and easily one of the better films of the new year.