This review comes from my Letterboxd profile, where I review every movie I see.
I got three movies for Christmas 2019. The first was How To Train Your Dragon 3. The second was HTTYD: Homecoming. This was the third. After watching this movie, I am so glad I asked for it for Christmas. In all honesty, there's part of me that's wondering if I should give this four stars because the tension wasn't as palpable as I had hoped for and I was more immersed in every other Shyamalan film I've seen than I was here. However, not only did the tension really start to pick up by the halfway mark, but the character development is consistent and engaging, the performances are astounding, and I have a feeling this is one of those movies that I will probably like more the second time I see it. Because of that, I don't know if I can even allow myself to give it four stars. That's the weirdest excuse ever, but I'm sticking with it.
Let's talk about the performances: like I said, they're all great. I've seen Chris Stuckmann's review of this movie multiple times and I remember him talking about the fact that the characters played by Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula were somewhat annoying in this film. I honestly think their performances worked really well. They're terrified, they've never had to deal with a survival situation like this before. Anya Taylor-Joy's character is hardened and better at strategizing than the other girls because of all she has had to go through in her life, whereas the other two have never had to try to survive a situation like this before. Because of that, I think that their performances worked really well.
However, in terms of the performances, I really want to talk about the three standouts in this film: Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, and James McAvoy. Let's talk about Taylor-Joy first, who plays the character that I was ultimately the most invested in by the end of the story. Her backstory is incredibly intriguing, and Taylor-Joy's performance is broken, desperate, and heart-breaking. She does a terrific job in this movie and I'm so glad she was given a chance to shine like this. Betty Buckley is an overall pleasant presence throughout this entire movie. Her charming demeanor as this counselor is completely believable, and she sells every minute she's on screen.
Of course, there's one aspect of this film that would be a crime not to discuss: James McAvoy. Holy crap. How did this guy not get nominated for an Oscar?! This is absolutely his best performance, not only because of how well he nailed the physicality and vocal features of the eight personalities he ultimately plays, but because through all of those personalities, I never once saw James McAvoy playing this character. I just saw the personality he happened to be playing at that moment. He is a revelation in this movie, giving possibly my favorite performance out of any of the Shyamalan films I've seen.
Speaking of Shyamalan, I want to talk about how beautifully this film is directed. The shot composition, the action sequences, the claustrophobic settings, all of them are captured beautifully in the camerawork and the way that these scenes are set up. This movie is directed incredibly well, and it's also written very well. The dialogue feels authentic, and for the most part, none of it feels like unnecessary exposition. There's a Skype scene in this movie that felt a little unnecessary, but other than that, the writing never takes its audience for granted and it never disrespects their intelligence. It takes you along for this incredibly intense ride and ultimately pays off.
I've mentioned my main flaws with this movie already: one unnecessary exposition scene, an experience that's not as immersive the first time around as some of Shyamalan's other films, that sort of stuff. I also got a little lost during the ending and certain aspects of McAvoy's character(s), but I think a second watch will probably fix those aspects for me. Simply reading the Wikipedia summary shows me that there are quite a few little lines of dialogue that have a lot of meaning behind them that I completely missed, which demonstrates just how well Shyamalan integrated these subtle story elements into this movie. I think overall, Split was incredibly satisfying. It was intense, it was well-acted, it was really well-directed, and it was a really well-crafted movie from start to finish. Hopefully, I'm correct about my second watch theory.
Letter Grade: A
[Honestly, after about a month-and-a-half of this movie settling in my subconsious, I don't really see any reason to keep the rating at 4.5 stars. The rating has been changed to 4 stars and the grade to A-. I still really enjoyed this movie, but there was NO reason for me to give this film 4.5 stars in the first place.]