Director M. Night Shymalan has had what could be called the definition of an up-and-down career. He exploded on the scene in 1999 with the horror/thriller classic The Sixth Sense, which was nominated for six Oscars, and his 2000 follow-up Unbreakable got a positive reception, too. Signs, from 2002, has a mixed reputation but was at least a big hit. The trouble started in 2004 with The Village, which was one of several films in a row by the director (Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth) that were savaged by critics and, in most cases, ignored by audiences.
In 2015 Shyamalan directed The Visit, a back-to-basics thriller that earned the director’s best reviews in years. And now, the early word is positive about his next film. Split, a thriller set for release next January, had a surprise screening at the Fantastic Fest in Austin and critics were there and filed the film’s first reviews – and thus far, they’ve been of the positive variety.
You can read SPOILER-FREE excerpts from the handful of Split reviews published thus far below (click on the corresponding links for the reviews in their entirety):
Collider – Haleigh Foutch
While the film’s final moments add an extra WTF delight that will prove rewarding to career-long viewers of Shyamalan’s work, it is essentially a tremendously sympathetic film about those who have suffered trauma and the strength it gives them.
THR – John DeFore
Genre fans should embrace what is arguably the director’s most satisfying picture since The Sixth Sense. In some quarters, it will generate talk of a comeback for a filmmaker who has suffered both critical drubbing and box office humiliation over the past decade.
The Guardian – Jordan Hoffman
It is a full and satisfying film that, if you stopped watching 18 seconds before the conclusion, would still suit as a juicy bit of smart horror. It nicely rides the line between exploitation and serious commentary about the strength gained from overcoming adversity.
Screen Crush – Britt Hayes
Shyamalan has fully delivered on that promise with Split, an incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking thriller. Although occasionally heavy-handed, Shyamalan’s latest is his most considerate and effective film in years, with a startling emotional core.
The film stars James McAvoy as a man with dissociative identity disorder who has 24 different personalities. In one strand of the film, he’s dealing with his psychiatrist (showbiz legend Betty Buckley), and in another, he has been compelled to abduct three teenage girls, one of whom is played by The Witch‘s Anya Taylor-Joy.
While it’s only the small sample size of four reviews, it’s good to hear positive things about Split. Even when Shyamalan was in the depths of his losing streak, a lot of cinephiles have been rooting for him to return to his early promise and recapture his former glory. Split, in the tradition of The Visit, sounds like a smaller-scale, more human story, one that showcases its actors – the sort of thing Shyamalan got away from a bit during his cold streak.
Then again, thrillers based on characters having multiple personalities have been such a cliche, especially in the 1990s, that it was even mocked in Charlie Kaufman’s script for Adaptation in 2002, with the fake screenplay The Three. And several of the reviews mentioned that the film’s depiction of mental illness is likely to draw blowback.
Split opens in U.S. theaters on January 20th, 2017