Critics considered the career of screen writer and director, M. Night Shyamalan to be dead and buried following a string of Box Office flops, including The Last Airbender. How could the director of the 1999 hit The Sixth Sense fail so dramatically with movies such as The Happening and The Village? However, following the success of The Visit, Shyamalan’s most recent thriller Split sees him back at his very best.
In Split, Kevin Wendall Crumb (James McAvoy) suffers with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) having 23 personalities or ‘alters’. Shyamalan chose to focus on only four of these identities, which worked perfectly allowing the excellent McAvoy to portray each individual personality, transitioning effortlessly between two alters in one scene; something that should have won him an Oscar had the release date been better timed. One of the greatest successes of this film is the relationship between McAvoy’s characters and Anya Taylor-Joy who plays Casey Cooke, one of the three girls kidnapped by McAvoy’s characters. She isn’t your typical ‘damsel in distress’ type character, as arguably the other girls are, Shyamalan makes her more complex. She’s intelligent, and as parts of her back-story filter throughout the film Shyamalan frames her differently to the typical two dimensional female characters that flood the horror/ thriller genres. The twists and turns of the narrative and constant suspense created by Shyamalan held me in thrall throughout the entire movie.
With market competition coming from an ever-growing international film industry, it is more important now than ever for Hollywood to have home grown successes as it fights off the likes of Bollywood and the ‘Foreign film’ genre… even if it is off the back of an Indian Director. It is a well-known fact that Hollywood movies have very large budgets, frequently running into hundreds of millions of dollars. Some may argue these budgets, no matter how large, aren’t a measure of how successful the film will be. Split is a perfect example of this, with an estimated budget of only 9 million dollars the success of the movie was largely down to the talents of M. Night Shyamalan and his cast. Split’s backers will be very much in their bank manager’s good books as this critically acclaimed film has grossed 137 million dollars so far.
There have of course been objections to the use of DID (also known as Split Personality Disorder) as the central theme in Split. Some oppose the use of mental illness in cinema and feel that the negative portrayal of a DID sufferer as dangerous and out of control feels unfair. However, Shyamalan takes care to highlight the seriousness of the disorder, something that was not recognised by the medical community at large, through Betty Buckley’s character Dr. Karen Fletcher. Throughout the narrative, we see Buckley fighting for the acceptance of DID as not only a mental disorder but as a higher form of human existence. Although I cannot argue that this is the case, with no background in psychology or medicine, I can however argue that Shyamalan’s script excellently discusses an issue that can be difficult to address through fictional media.
You have been warned. Here I am talking about the end of the movie, the twist ending
that Shyamalan is so famous for. It was lacking in several of his other films but he has certainly come back fighting in Split. Shyamalan’s shout out to one of his earlier films, Unbreakable starring Bruce Willis, changes every idea that you have about the film. Bruce Willis’ cameo at the end of Spilt highlights that, not only is this a fun Easter Egg for Shyamalan fans, but that the narrative of the film is literally ‘split’ from the world of Unbreakable, a sort of sequel perhaps?
If you have not seen Split I highly recommend checking out the trailer here. Split is out on DVD now and it is definitely worth a watch.