Director M. Night Shyamalan has had a lot of disgrace in the past, but Split was a decent movie!
James McAvoy plays a man with a multiple-personality disorder who kidnaps three young girls for unknown reasons. The girls, while fighting for their freedom, discover their captor has twenty-three distinct personalities inside him.
This film, by its very nature, is incredibly difficult to talk about; there will be a spoiler section shortly. On face value Split is a psychological thriller, opening with three girls being abducted from a party by a mysterious man known as Dennis, only shortly after do we see this same man visiting a therapist only now going by the name Barry. The film moves between the girls’ plight and bemused terror, locked in a basement dwelling somewhere and this man’s other life, apparently a fashion designer.
Of course, things get worse as the girls find their antagonist seemingly playing different people, from the creepy neat-freak Dennis, to a controlling woman and a jovial nine year old. Everything though is spiraling out of control though, as Barry’s therapist begins to uncover the truth…
Shyamalan has crafted a decent film around a well documented disorder, although he is playing with fire; crafting a purely fantastical story around very real issues. Some audiences may find it somewhat unkind, but it does attempt to suggest nobler intentions; that the disorder might in fact be some sort of evolution (although it never truly runs with this philosophy, more uses it as a story enabler). James McAvoy, as many have said already, is the star of the show, touting a shaved head and manipulating different personalities and transitioning between them with incredible ease. In the subtler scenes you can tell which character has taken hold purely by McAvoy’s facial expressions. It is an unsettling and mysterious performance, you never quite know what to expect from him.
The claustrophobic atmosphere, imprisonment and a main character with dubious motivations, really reminded me of last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane. Although not as well written.
Now, Split is a difficult film to talk about, because throughout the movie I was happy, joyous even, that M. Night Shyamalan was making a film that lacked a twist. I know right? Amazing, maybe he has finally learned? Nope.
While ninety-nine percent of the film is a psychological thriller, the film throws a total curve ball in literally the last thirty seconds. While I didn’t mind it, I was still very perplexed by the decision, because it altered the entire genre and themes of the film and in a way validated some of the film’s questionable motivations over its conceit over mental illness. What is the twist? Split is a sequel to Unbreakable. What is Unbreakable you ask? M. Night’s movie seventeen years ago starring Bruce Willis and is a superhero movie of his own design. This makes Split a superhero film.
Spoiler territory over!
McAvoy steals the show, although the therapist, played by Betty Buckley, gives a rewarding performance despite being landed with most of the expositionary dialogue and questions. The film has something of a fractured screenplay, not only in the different perspectives of the girls and the therapist, but also using flashbacks. It does tie up nicely at the end, but there’s less cohesion as things progress.
Ultimately I feel like it was a decent M. Night movie, mostly for McAvoy’s transformative performance. In fact if only the film had kept itself a little simpler; perhaps restraining itself to the perspective of the girls and their captor as these are the most intriguing scenes. Especially when lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy (playing a character with a survivalist edge on proceedings, very cool) begins to puzzle things together.
A film I am divided over (pun intended!) but it is a thrilling and well constructed movie.