Even moreso than Shyamalan’s earlier films, it’s difficult to discuss some of the beauty and ingenuity of this film without delving into spoiler territory, but there’s still plenty to rave about without spoiling the film’s greatest trick.
Anya Taylor-Joy continues being an new stand-out in horror. Shyamalan returns to writing meaningful, creative, clever, cohesive scripts and directing them with measured restraint. But James McAvoy is the revelation here. He doesn’t just deliver one brilliant, stunning performance, he delivers many. In the same way that “The Sixth Sense” impressed me in how it married its plot with its thematics (psychotherapy driving both the narrative, but also factoring heavily into the ending and reveal, and being the main idea explored throughout the film on multiple levels), acting and performativity aren’t just the most impressive aspects of “Split” on a metatextual level through McAvoy’s brilliant performances, no, they also underpin the entire film on narrative and thematic levels as well. McAvoy acts characters upon characters as part of an important plot point. Anya Taylor-Joy’s character arc revolves around performative aspects of her personality, and why she engages in them. The legitimacy or lack thereof of performative identities we engage in is the whole idea the film grapples with, often in creative and unexpected ways. Such unity of purpose makes for a very coherent and focused film.
Even if the story was a bit crap, the film would still be fantastic just because of how magnificent McAvoy is in it. But the story isn’t crap, it’s great too! And what Shyamalan pulls off at the end is brilliant and daring on so many levels, both narratively and in a metatextual sense, in a move that not only doesn’t feel like the stilted, groan-worthy twists of his recent films, or even a throwback to the deftly-handled compelling twists of his early work, but instead something entirely new.
I give it four personalities, and a dash of paprika.