Director – M. Night Shyamalan
Cast – James Mackavoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Izzie Coffey, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus, Neal Huff
Release Year – 2017
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I think it is fair to say that Split could be the most ambitious horror film since 2014’s Tusk. M. Night Shyamalan isn’t a stranger to giving us the films he wants to make, which is my favorite thing about him. Unfortunately, his ideas don’t always pan well with moviegoers, ala The Happening (lame), The Last Airbender (garbage), and Lady in the Water (I dug it), which were efforts bashed by his former fans. I felt that Split would fall under the same scrutiny. I thought the ambitious use of its antagonist would make or break the film, but the casting of James Makavoy was enough to bring in those curious to see if Charles Xavier 2.0 could pull it off. Split gives us a unique experience unlike any I have seen, and Shyamalan once again wows audiences with a cleverly crafted tale that comes complimented with a twist you never see coming.
Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Morgan) stars as Casey Cooke, a strong-willed teen who is abducted alongside two acquaintances by Kevin, man suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID). Within Kevin’s mind lives 23 personalities, and the girls must find a way to escape before the arrival of his submerged 24th personality – The Beast.
Shyamalan wastes little time getting us to the goods, delivering the abduction scene during the opening sequence. The girls are taken after leaving a birthday party where Casey was only invited because everyone in her class was invited, so she isn’t necessarily a friend of her co-abductees. They awake in a barren room at an undisclosed location, where they soon learn that escaping in the traditional sense will be futile. If they wish to make it out alive they will have to learn the characteristics / gain the trust of Kevin’s personalities, which include an artist, an aristocratic woman, a 9 year old boy, and Dennis – the ringleader. Watching the girls’ jaws drop when they realize their captor has multiple personalities was amazing and Shyamalan’s writing kept us just as lost and confused (initially) as they were.
Surprisingly, his story doesn’t simply focus on the girls. There is a pseudo sub-plot involving Kevin and his psychiatrist Dr. Karen Fletcher, who he meets with on a regular basis. She is taking notice to changes in his behavior, and believes he has an ulterior motive at play. She has made waves in the scientific community with her research into (DID) and believes that each personality can take on physical characteristics that the others lack. For example, one of Kevin’s personalities is diabetic and must take insulin shots, whereas his other personalities are without diabetes. She is also in danger of Kevin unleashing his 24th personality, and her persistence will come with loads of tension.
The horror in the film is impending. The bulk of Shyamalan’s story is mostly a thriller, as the girls (namely Casey) try to weasel their way out of captivity by playing into Kevin’s most naïve personality. There are moments where Shyamalan’s writing and direction result in some good thrills. You never know when Kevin’s personality will change, and that leaves you on edge. It isn’t until the end of the film, where we (unsurprisingly) meet Kevin’s 24th personality, that the Split “transforms” into a horror film. I won’t go into detail over what transpires with The Beast, but let’s just say Shyamalan doesn’t disappoint. The final act will please those who waited for the payoff. On top of this, the film’s final scene – the expected Shyamalan twist, is one that will throw you for a loop. It makes perfect sense, but to me it was almost too much and a bit outlandish. There is no way in hell you could have guessed it beforehand, so I didn’t feel as stupid / fooled as I wanted to feel.
Ultimately, Split is another win for Shyamalan as both a writer and a director. His casting of James Mackavoy was genius, as James not only sold the role (and its many characters), but also drew in a crowd that wanted to see X-Men’s Charles Xavier 2.0 do crazy things. So how was Mackavoy? He was fun. I will even say that he was incredible. Had it not been for him specifically I don’t think the role would have been as enjoyable for me. It was an ambitious task to take on and he excelled in every form, from the weaker characters, to the cunning ones, and to the downright diabolical. Shyamalan’s execution leads to solid tension, and good execution was a must for a film that comes in just shy of two hours and only consists of two locations: the bunker the girls are held in and Dr. Fletcher’s office. There were so many ways the film could have gone wrong, but with two consecutive solid efforts I think it is safe to say that Shyamalan is back to form.
Overall, Split is an engaging film that starts off as a thriller and transforms into a solid horror film. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I am sure you will at least leave with an appreciation for seeing something “different” and truly ambitious on the big screen.