By Michael Burk
M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” (2017) In 1999 M. Night seemingly achieved overnight success with the Bruce Willis supernatural thriller, “The Sixth Sense”. It had critical praise, financial reward & even a few Oscar nods. A year later, he teamed with Willis once again on “Unbreakable”.
A beautifully subdued take on the superhero origin legend. It did okay, but wasn’t the blockbuster their original team up was. It to this day remains my favorite M. Night film. Some films take more than one viewing to truly grasp their greatness. Then came “Signs”. Another big hit & basically the last, not just for Shyamalan, but unfortunately, for it’s star, Mel Gibson as well. I actually walked from one screening of “Signs” to the next one the day it was released. Just to hear the audience shriek in terror, all over again. Night would never stop making films, but he surely stopped making successful ones.
Personally, I’ve never given up on him as a talent & have enjoyed most of his missteps, if not out & out experiments. I always longed for him to just stop writing his own stuff & just direct some one else’s work. But he always had to get his own hands dirty, again & again. There’s no denying he IS great with actors & especially helps younger actors to shine. With last year’s, found footage style, “The Visit”, he finally returned to the genre that made him famous to begin with. The thriller. “Split” is definitely a sign of him climbing back onto the horse after so many years of being bucked off. I’ve actually been more excited about seeing this vicariously through the people’s buzz & enthusiasm for it’s release.
Then I began to see it was getting positive reviews. So do I think its good? Yes, very. With stylistic echoes to “The Silence of the Lambs” with a little “Red Dragon” thrown in, I sat in the theater thinking “that’s not the worst thing someone could do theses days. Why not!?”. This film is about a lot of uncomfortable things. Childhoods, family, being in your own skin. Even uncomfortable angles at times. It travels to many dark places. James McAvoy gives a stellar performance as the main character. Or should I say characters? Anya Taylor-Joy, star of one of my favorite films from last year, “The Witch” plays one of McAvoy’s captives. She as well gives a stand out performance. I was also happy to see Betty Buckley of “Carrie” & Broadway fame in such a sizable role here too. The film stands on it’s own legs very well. I was satisfied when it was done. But as with the old days of M. Night Shyamalan, at his best, there was one final reveal. Something even more surprising than his best shock endings. I heard something very familiar to me. I began to sense something was coming. I rose forward in my chair & got something I’ve waited a very long time to see.
I won’t say anymore. Other than it caused me to become very emotional, in all sorts of directions. If you’re a fan of his early success’s, definitely see this. Before someone ruins it for you! It will leave you thinking & wanting more immediately. In closing, I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a climax to a film in years.