How did we get here? Heralding an M. Night Shyamalan movie about a villain with dissociative personality disorder (previously known as split personality disorder) as the first, must-watch horror movie of 2017? The whole world’s gone mad, so we might as well embrace that Split is the movie to see right now!
It may even turn out to be one of the best of the year, should the flurry of sequels, reboots, and otherwise wholly unoriginal properties set to flood our screens in the coming ten months turn out to be as unsatisfying as we expect. If nothing else, it’s a return to form for someone whose last attempt at genre film-making was painfully ill-judged.
As the great Mark Kermode put it at the time, The Visit boasted nothing that even the most casual horror fan would find amusing or new. So, in that respect, it’s even more impressive that Split turned out to be as good as it is. Here are five more reasons why you need to hit the multiplex ASAP to catch it:
It’s not what you think
Shyamalan has been known, for quite some time now, as the go-to guy for shocking twists. From The Sixth Sense to Signs, he’s a filmmaker who always has something unexpected up his sleeve. Until he didn’t, and The Last Airbender, The Lady In The Water and After Earth happened. Super-fans may be miffed to learn that Split doesn’t hinge on a massive, third-act reveal, but such is its power. This is a movie we never could have imagined Shyamalan making five or ten years ago. Hell, it’s difficult to believe he’s made it now. Sure, there’s a post-title nod that will annoy everyone but the diehards, but that aside, this is a strong horror movie that succeeds on its own merits, rather than relying on shocking us into submission in its final moments.
James McAvoy finally gets the role he deserves
The Scot best known for playing young Charles Xavier in the X-Men prequels has been quietly (or, er, not so quietly given how much he tends to commit to even the fluffiest projects) making a name for himself as a serious player when it comes to layered, nuanced villains. Each of his characters, even the most kind-hearted, is imbued with darkness. And with Split‘s Kevin, himself housing 23 other personalities, McEvoy gives a tour de force performance loaded with well-judged moments of madness and poignancy. He’s a tortured villain, almost an antihero when it comes down to it, and his humanity makes his eventual turn into full-on evil even more terrifying. With his head shaved tight, McEvoy relies only on costume changes and facial tics to communicate the changes within. His Kevin is a formidable antagonist, who may even go on to become one of the greats in his own right.
Anya Taylor-Joy continues on her path to Horror Icon
Speaking of which, hot off last year’s take-notice turns in The Witch and Morgan, Anya Taylor-Joy continues her process of world domination with another star turn as the dark, isolated Casey. A victim of abuse, the full extent of which is revealed in gradually more stomach-churning flashbacks, Taylor-Joy’s Final Girl is the only one of the trio held hostage by Kevin who manages to find common ground with him. We’re rooting for her the whole time, and she gives an interesting glimpse into the mind of a victim while never once acting consigning herself to that role. It’s easy to imagine Taylor-Joy making a career out of playing these kinds of bad-ass heroines, provided the great roles keep on coming. And opposite McEvoy she proves a wonderful foil, the two enjoying a crackling chemistry that keeps us guessing as to her true intentions throughout.
It’s genuinely frightening
One of the biggest criticisms levelled at modern horror is that these movies just don’t have the capacity to scare us anymore. This ignores the generally accepted idea that we’re never going to replicate the feeling we had as kids watching Halloween, Texas Chain Saw, whatever it was, for the first time and that our adult lives are spent chasing the dragon as it were. But anyone who claims modern horror movies don’t have the capacity to scare is also ignoring the multitude of films that have done just that over the years, from Scream to Paranormal Activity to Saw. Split isn’t the scariest movie you’re ever going to see–particularly if you’re a diehard horror fan–but it’s still tense, frightening and seriously atmospheric. Shyamalan wastes no time getting things going and expertly escalates the tension once the girls are trapped. This is a movie that builds to an exciting, strange and scary conclusion by wrong-footing us each step of the way. It succeeds because we think we have its number, but we don’t.
It’s not The Bye Bye Man. Or Rings
If modern horror has taken a beating, then studio horror is a bloodied corpse at this stage. The Bye Bye Man kicked 2017 off by reminding us that not even Doug Jones and some nifty prosthetics can camouflage a bunch of execs looking to make a quick buck off the Friday night multiplex crowd, while Rings, a long-delayed reboot/sequel that nobody really wanted or cared about (so much so the trailer boasts some of the worst ADR imaginable) turned out to be arguably the poorest installment in the franchise yet. Split, therefore, is a welcome reminder that, with the right team behind it (read: Blumhouse), studio horror can still be great. True, this kind of output is likely never going to be as life-changing as something that wasn’t created by committee, but with voracious horror appetites to sate, it’s good to know that there are still directors pushing their vision even with decent budgets behind them. Split was still made on a shoestring compared to something like Rings, but considering it’s been pulling in the punters on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s still a victory for horror as a whole. It’s not perfect, nor is it the return to form many are claiming it to be, but it’s a considerable step up from The Bye Bye Man and an even bigger one forward from The Visit. Vote with your wallet and maybe we’ll start 2018 off with something even better.
Catch Split in theaters nationwide now