The career of M. Night Shyamalan has been subjected to the critical highs and lows in Hollywood, but what the Sixth Sense writer/director can proudly say is that he has stuck to his guns, like Frank Sinatra, he's done it his way. His newest psychological creeper- Split is a resounding success and has an impressively bonkers performance from James McAvoy. Or should I say performances? His portrayal of 23 different characters carries a lot of the weight, while Shyamalan strings the audience along with his originally wicked thriller style.  

Anya Taylor Joy continues her meteoric rise, after superb work in The Witch and Morgan, here she plays Casey, an awkward girl who after a birthday party is kidnapped, along with the popular Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula). The man who takes them captive is McAvoy's Kevin, an unstable person, suffering from a multiple personality diagnosis known as dissociative identity disorder (DID). He keeps the women locked in a room, with little idea of where they are, and what their fate will be. What they also don't know, is which personality lurked behind the door. Each time the latch opened revealed another of his 23 distinctly different characters, that range from a sensitive mother figure to a curious little boy named Hedwig.

Although the way Split deals with mental disability will certainly have health officials bending their heads, we meet Kevin's therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley). She approaches her patient with a gentle respect, as she has studied many cases like this, and developed a belief that each individual that lives in Kevin is distinctly different. When the captor visits, we learn that there could possibly be a 24th personality, something that he calls “The Beast”. It could be a being that is of the supernatural, something violent, or an animal of another kind...

For a long time, I have viewed Shyamalan's films with keeping in mind his love for Spielberg, almost entirely forgetting his influence from Hitchcock. In Split, that inspiration is often present, with his bending and twisting ways of telling a story. The framing of staircases, underground corridors, and exhaust pipes by DP Mike Gioulakis creates a claustrophobic maze that helps build the tension. Meanwhile, you continue guessing the moves that our characters will make, the three girls find themselves playing a game of cat and mouse, studying each personality, and plotting their escape. That task is not as easy to accomplish, as Casey's own backstory has a disturbing history that comes into play in her survival.

McAvoy is flawless, with every bone chilling tick and transition from one character to the next. The X-Men: First Class star has flown under the radar for his strong work in recent years. His turn here, as someone with multiple personalities, works in the same vein as Anthony Perkins did in Psycho or Edward Norton in Fight Club. Shyamalan does not take a gentle approach to his lead characters struggle with his mental state, frankly, some parts of Split are quite disturbing, but in the horror genre it works at making you squirm periodically.

Ultimately, it is the performance from McAvoy mixed with the inventive mind of Shyamalan that makes Split a deliciously twisted creep fest. Picking up where he started his return to form in the small budget found footage film- The Visit, it is clear that Shyamalan wants to get back to making movies that challenge his audience. Although the misdirection is at times a distraction, he still can't help himself from writing one too many twists that confuse in the films third act, I still found myself thinking about Split long after its end. I was not divided on my opinion, this is a damn good mind bender.

3 Stars

Written by: Leo Brady