M. Night’s newest film is more than what it seems — and for the first time in a while, that’s actually a good thing.
If there’s anything that’s become a trademark about director M. Night Shyamalan, it’s his proclivity (and seemingly love) for the “twist.” In fact, only two of his 13 feature films HAVEN’T ended with some kind of reversal of narrative: his sole non-original work The Last Airbender, and his oft-mentioned (and barely released) first feature Praying with Anger. And maybe After Earth didn’t either, but hell if I would know (come on, I didn’t watch that movie!) In any case, M. Night’s love of the twist is very much documented, and is one of the contributing factors in his slow decline into universal mockery.
That and the pretty awful quality of his work post Signs, of course. His movies went from bad to horrible, and the terrible twists were a large part of their lack of quality (in addition to bad writing, acting, directing, and pretty much everything else.)
But M. Night’s newest film, Split, is different. Split is actually a great movie, a showcase for M. Night to prove that he still can direct the hell out of a film when his heart is really in it. I’ll likely have a lot to say about how Split (and to a lesser extent, The Visit) represents a surprising comeback for the filmmaker, but for now, I want to devote this article solely to one thing: the ending.
Because, although Split is a very different from his last decade of subpar work, Shyamalan’s love of the twist has yet to go away. But, for the first time in forever, I’m extremely pleased that’s the case. Because the ending of Split isn’t just a fantastic caper to a great film — it’s one of the best surprises I’ve ever had in a movie theater.
And to fully explain why, I will obviously have to delve into some COMPLETE SPOILERS FOR SPLIT in the rest of this article. Seriously, go see the movie as soon as you can, and come back. You won’t see the final scene coming, and I would hate to deprive you of the same sense of joy I had as the film’s final minute came to a close. And you’ll get a great movie out of it too, so not bad, right? So go see the movie, and join me after the below picture for the rest of the article.
Okay, you’re back. And if your experience seeing the conclusion of Split was anything like mine, you’re probably freaking out right now. So let’s just clear away with the elephant in the room:
HOLY FUCK, SPLIT WAS A SEQUEL TO UNBREAKABLE THE WHOLE GODDAMN TIME. BRUCE WILLIS WAS THERE AND EVERYTHING!!!
Okay, I feel relieved to have let that out. Let’s actually break this thing down now.
Because the final scene is only one aspect of the ending to Split: the other half (no pun intended) deals with the fallout of the actual film, as the being known as Kevin assumes his 24th and ultimate form: that of The Beast, a near invulnerable monster who can climb walls, break a person in half just by hugging them, and survive at least three shotgun blasts to the torso. Yes, even that was a pretty big direction for the story to take, but one that surprising felt natural: the film sets up throughout the idea of split personalities being the key to “supernatural” powers, and as silly as that might sound on paper, the hook surprisingly works in the film itself. And only further falls into place when the movie is revealed to take place in the Unbreakable universe anyways.
Which is important when contextualizing the places that Split ultimately goes to in its third act. As a film, Split seems like an amalgam of Shyamalan’s usual subject matter: as much as it is a terrifying, atmospheric thriller, it’s also a kooky and comic book inspired genre piece, dealing heavily in the supernatural. This is a combo that worked gangbusters early in Shyamalan’s career, but ultimately dried up in films like The Village and (of course) The Happening.
But the combo of “thriller movie” and “comic book movie” works far stronger in Split than it has in previous Shyamalan films, just because the director wisely built up to it in a way that felt both organic and suspenseful. And so when things get full crazy in the film’s third act, you were already getting prepared for the mayhem — and said mayhem ends up making complete sense by the end of it, as Split’s true intentions finally come to light.
Which brings us back to the “secret Unbreakable sequel” of the whole thing because, man, I’m still riding a little high on that reveal. You have to understand — Unbreakable is my FAVORITE M. Night Shyamalan film, and I’ve been excited about the prospect of it having a sequel for a long time now. So to have the film’s final moment conclude in the way it did, with Bruce Willis namedropping Mr. Glass, was a cathartic moment. And the fact that I didn’t see it coming WHATSOEVER really added to the overall moment.
As the scene expanded, I just thought we were getting the standard horror movie setup for a sequel: the killer is STILL OUT THERE, and broadcast news is here to conveniently talk about it. This type of ending was used verbatim just last year in Don’t Breath (whoops, spoiler I guess), and has been in countless horror movies before. I was still getting excited about the prospect just because I liked the idea of the character so much and would certainly be interested in seeming him in a sequel, but I wasn’t really expecting something huge in the moment. I thought the big “twist” that everyone was talking about was the whole “James McAvoy’s character actually becomes a horrifying supernatural creature” thing.
But then some diner-goers start talking about the “other” guy who got a comic book villain name from the media, and my ears perked up. I tried to process what I was hearing but, by the time I did, mention of “a guy in a wheelchair” rang out. My heart started beating really fast, and I’m pretty sure I said “no fucking way!” out loud (thank god I wasn’t in an Alamo Drafthouse, right?) I thought that would be it, just a little tease about something that might come further down the line.
But nope. Out comes Bruce Willis, sitting at the diner and wearing his standard security uniform. “They called him Mr. Glass,” he says. And then the film cuts to the credits. And I completely lost it.
And, for the record, I was probably the only person in that theater who did. Everyone else looked just kind of confused why the hell Bruce Willis popped up at the end of this horror movie. Yes, the world of Unbreakable fans is indeed a small one, especially at the 11 AM showing of a movie the Friday that it comes out. But for the people like me this was a huge treat, and probably the most stunned and excited I’ve been since Nick Fury popped up in Tony Stark’s home to ask him to join the Avengers Initiative. And boy was that the last thing I expected from M. Night Shyamalan’s newest.
But as I walked back to my car, my mind was of course buzzing about what I just saw. M. Night Shyamalan made both a stealth sequel to Unbreakable, and a stealth prequel to Unbreakable. Because like the aforementioned Nick Fury cameo, there’s no way in hell this was just a sly reference for fans. This is very clearly the lead up to Unbreakable 2, and in Split we just saw the origin story for what I imagine will be film’s primary antagonist. And, trust me, I don’t say this about M. Night Shyamalan pretty often…but it’s actually kind of genius.
My thought is this: M. Night has been talking about doing a potential Unbreakable 2 for years, and at some point finally broke the concept for it. The main show would be a Joker-like baddie suffering through multiple personality disorder, the kind of villain that truly felt like he could be at home in Arkham Asylum. Shyamalan got excited by this prospect, and in the development phase realized that the legwork he would have to do to introduce this bad guy would make for a very bloated sequel. So what did he do instead? He made the villain’s origins its own standalone film, and didn’t tell anyone. So when the revelation does come, he would make the ULTIMATE twist. It almost sounds like a villain plot in and of itself, doesn’t it?
And the plot only further thickens if you recall Shyamalan’s next project, a reported drama starring Bruce Willis about a man who walks across country on foot in memory of his dead wife. Now this part of the breakdown is going to go down into complete conspiracy theory territory, so humor me for a second: what if this film (entitled Labor of Love) isn’t really original after all? What if this reunion between Willis and Shyamalan is actually Unbreakable 2 under a secret title? Yeah it’s probably a long shot, but so was Split being set in the world of Unbreakable, so with M. Night it’s really hard to say what will actually happen.
In any case, for the first time in a LONG time, I’m really excited to see what becomes of Shyamalan post-Split. He finally convinced me that the talented kid who wowed everyone with The Sixth Sense is still there, and I can only hope that this new phase of his career will be a fruitful one. Nothing is set in stone of course: hell, as cool as it was to see actual setup for an Unbreakable sequel here, I’m not even sure the project will be very good (in actuality, it would probably be an uphill battle to make work.) But what I do know is that the ending of Split was something special, and even if what comes out of it proves to be a disappointment, I won’t forget the euphoria and excitement I felt when the true nature of this psuedo-sequel began to click into place.
What a twist indeed.