M. Night Shyamalan's Split is one of the more intensive psychological thrillers in recent memory. Marketed as a horror film, upon viewing I found it instead to be more of a plunge into psychology (with the healthy movie magic hyperbole for plot settings to be sure) coupled with the extensive acting range of the lead villain which overall made for quite the entertaining viewing experience even though it wasn't what I had expected. The movie is solid, with its narrative being one of the most concise I have seen with almost no aspect of the dialogue going to waste making for a movie that is actually interesting to pay attention to (sad that's becoming a bar to meet now I know). While trying to abstain from too many spoilers one should still remain weary going into this review however I will not spoil much of the plot or ending for those that are still intending to see it.
The best thing to begin with about this movie is to elaborate on how clear its narrative is throughout. The movie rarely wastes dialogue setting up many Chekhov's guns and fills in holes that one may be wondering. Its characters are cleverly written and don't fall suspect to a many horror and thriller tropes of being stupid and making stupid choices for plot's sake (in fact they're some of the smartest horror characters that come to mind, even if there are only a few of them). Now that being said there are a few instances in the film where I went "come on your killing me" when they'd waste a good moment, or not follow up on something, however these moments are so few and in the frame of the narrative so precious that the mistakes can easily be chalked up to fear and panic that a person would be feeling in the situation rather than the character was just and idiot and makes idiot choices.
The cast for the movie is very small, only five main characters within about 2 settings, however the movie cleverly makes up for this by introducing its villain and of course the obvious plight of the movie. In a nutshell: A man with multiple personalities has kidnapped 3 young girls and is holding them hostage so that they may be killed at a later time by the worst personality inside the man. The fifth character in this little setting is the man's psychologist, a very learned (albeit aging) woman who has specialized in working with patients who have multiple personalities. She is preparing a thesis that states that the human brain can override its own senses to physically force the body do extraordinary things and that other personalities in patients may allow the brain to hyper-focus and achieve this mind over matter on a regular basis (for a simplified example one personality in a blind patient might be able to see, and the brain is able to force the optical nerves to work). The movie makes very good use of it's small cast, with the psychologist noticing that something is very wrong in her patient, (our villain) who we believe is the personality Barry, and their sessions are in linear order with the events surrounding the kidnapped girls that another, more aggressive and on the brink of homicidal, personality named Dennis is doing with them.
The movies plot waste's absolute zero time in getting started, so for those that do not enjoy the trope of a horror movie having a rather long and typically exposition filled beginning, fret not, as the intro to the movie is about five minutes long and the exposition is told through flashbacks and therapy sessions rather than an anticlimactic introduction. The main characters seem to be one of the kidnapped girls and our villain, who for simplicity sake I will call Kevin, his actual name. Kevin has inside him 23 personalities, most of which or harmless and functioning members of Kevin, however two are known as the Horde; evil personalities who believe in a 24th personality and have been regressed away from Kevin's consciousness through extensive therapy. Guess which personalities kidnapped the girls? The Horde are known as Patricia and Dennis. Dennis is a very strong and typically angry personality with OCD. Patricia is a very calm woman and honestly not that aggressive personality however she posses the ability to give control back over to Dennis when she needs to, and is able to coax another personalty the kidnapped girls meet into helping the Hordes goals. This personality meet is named Hedwig. Hedwig is a 9 year old boy who pretty much enjoys doing what 9 year old boys do, and even though Patricia is able to coax this personality in Kevin's subconscious, the kidnapped girls are able to talk him into doing things for them to further escape as well, leading to most of the movies tense moments.
The movies plot becomes basically a countdown with the kidnapped girls attempting to escape and the psychiatrist attempting to figure out what Kevin's personalities are hiding all the while the Horde is trying to keep things under control while awaiting the last personality, one that can override all the others and is very murderous. The film is very intense and leaves the very anxious as things unfold however it's not really that scary in terms of horror, as I've said it's more psychological thriller. It turns out that the 24th personality is the psychiatrists thesis; a personality whose mind is able to force the body into doing nearly impossible tasks (in this case abnormal strength, dexterity, and durability). When this personality makes it's appearance it leads to a very interesting ending, with one I honestly didn't expect but made perfect sense within the established narrative, and thus leaves the viewer with a very satisfied conclusion. Honestly there wasn't much wrong with the movie, the only real thing I can think of is it doesn't attach you to certain characters and their deaths aren't really that shocking to the viewer. the real highlight of the film is the lead actor, James Mcavoy, whose portrayal of each different character was near perfection dramatically effect. Each personality had different ticks, each one had different tones of voice and each with their own facial expressions. the viewer is almost never confused at which character we are dealing with and on the most dramatically moments in the movie revolves around this and how Mcavoy portrays Kevin switching from one to the other in rapid succession with again perfect believabilty. It's one of those films where you actually feel for the villain, and that moment becomes very powerful.
All in all Split was a joy to watch, a very interesting movie and one where I actually wanted to pay attention to everything because not only was the dialogue engaging but also because you start to notice that everything being said is important to the plot. The kidnapped girls acting was okay as far as playing the victims goes, if anything a little green. The psychiatrist was a clever, smart, and overall integral aspect of the movie as she really becomes the bridge to the viewer, trying to analyze each part of the villains motivations and find out what's going on. Finally, as I've said, Mcavoy plays a phenomenal role as Kevin, honestly this is easily the best thing I've seen him in(yeah, he's that good). Split is something that I look forward to showing other people when it comes out on Blu-ray and definitely has re-watchability. There is also a major spoiler M Night Shyamalan ending which I absolutely can not spoil here but if you're a fan of his works it very much puts you on the hype train. Split comes very much recommended for having one of the most clear narrative coupled with some of the finest acting in a dramatic role any thriller movie has to offer. If you're unsure of what to watch in theaters between the summer blockbusters and sequel among sequels definitly give it a watch, it's a movie I hope does well because I'd love to see more like it.