The day before my catastrophic viewing of Blade Runner: 2049, I finally watched Split on HBO Go and was surprised by just how great it was. M. Night Shyamalan is back and he’s better than he ever was. Yes, it’s better than any of his other movies.
Split is storytelling at its best and the thing that impressed me the most was the thought behind the frame of every single shot in the movie. It really adds to the tension, the atmosphere and the story. Everyone in this movie gives standout performances. Starting with James McAvoy, it’s the performance of his career, as he very believably cycles through multiple personalities. Next is Anya Taylor-Joy, who gives the performance of her young career. I had previously seen her in The Witch and knew she was one to watch. The other two girls in the movie were great too, although they had somewhat limited roles and were overshadowed by McAvoy and Taylor-Joy. Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher wasn’t bad, either.
The biggest problem some people would have with this movie is what would appear to be the big reveal about McAvoy’s character, but that was well telegraphed and it’s the final reveal that made this movie great. This would be an A- movie, but it’s the final reveal that makes it an A+ and the reason why is explained below.
As is pretty much common knowledge now about Split, the movie takes place in the universe of the Unbreakable film from M. Night Shyamalan back in 2000. This is revealed in the final shot of the film that includes Bruce Willis’ character from that film reminding someone in a diner that the villain’s name from Unbreakable was Glass.
If you’re watching this and don’t know this, as it was not advertised at the time of the film’s release that it’s in the same universe, McAvoy’s character turning into the Beast (named the Horde by society at the end of the movie) would seem somewhat hokey. But, this is an M. Night Shyamalan film and something supernatural or semi-supernatural happening shouldn’t be that surprising and he well-telegraphed this occurring throughout the movie. McAvoy’s character turning into the beast was well done, too, as it was far more subtle than the multiple personalities’ own description of the beast, although his skin does become like armor and he has the ability to scale walls like a lizard.
But, when the reveal occurs that it’s in the same universe as Unbreakable, this film becomes a superhero (actually, supervillain) origins story and when taken in that context, it’s the best origins story ever made for a superhero or supervillain. Yes, really. I can’t find a single flaw in this movie when taken in that context.
This greatly raises expectations for the upcoming film Glass from M. Night Shyamalan where he is presumably tying the three characters of Unbreakable, Split, and Glass together. I’m also very curious about the direction that Taylor-Joy’s character takes in the upcoming film, as The Beast felt she was one of them at the end and the sexual abuse from her Uncle could easily result in her using her powers for evil, not good.