If 2015’s The Visit is Shyamalan’s first step in returning to form, then Split is where he finally did.
Split tells the story of a man named Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID), and as a result, has 23 split personalities. A few of the personalities stage a coup, taking over as dominant personalities in order to herald the arrival of a supposed 24th personality, “The Beast.” And to serve as sacrifices to this so-called “Beast”, one of the personalities, “Dennis”, abducts three teenage girls – Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula) – and holds them captive. As the girls try to figure out how to escape, Kevin’s long-time psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), begins to become suspicious that there’s something wrong going on with her remarkable patient.
This movie is a solid psychological horror thriller. Specifically, I like the employment of DID in its plot. Ever since I read Sybil, a book by Flora Rheta Schreiber that chronicles the case of Sybil Dorsett and her multiple personalities, I’ve always been fascinated with DID – something I’ve already alluded to a couple of times in the past. And Split really executed a thrilling, intelligent, slow-burn narrative from its DID-centric abduction premise.
James McAvoy is phenomenal in this movie. Not all 23 personalities made appearances, but to those that did, he really sold the distinctive characterizations of each personality manifesting. Anya Taylor-Joy also had a compelling performance, and her character is gratifyingly well-written. But Split is definitely McAvoy’s show.
But the most anticipated thing about this movie is what the mindblowing plot twist would be – since such is a staple aspect of Shyamalan’s films. And, indeed, Split’s plot twist is THE BOMB! Of course, for it to work, one must have some extent of familiarity with M. Night Shyamalan’s filmography. But it’s truly a fantastic twist – probably the best from Shyamalan yet. It really changed how I saw the movie. And while its implication was dawning on me as it unfolded, gooseflesh crept all over me.
Split is not exactly a complete masterpiece. The story has aspects and scenes that just didn’t make sense to me why they’re there (or I just missed something?). But as a whole, this is a very well-realized movie. I loved it. Everything adds up perfectly, especially when that plot twist is taken into consideration.
Miscellaneous musings – WITH SPOILERS:
- The way DID is depicted in this movie is fascinatingly unique. While other movies or TV shows portray characters with DID as basically the same person whose mind has fragmented into several facets, Split approaches it differently: that these personalities are truly independent individuals trapped in the same body, as a personality may have physical traits and body chemistries that other personalities don’t reflect. For example, one of Kevin’s personalities has diabetes, but none of the others do. I don’t know the extent of its scientific viability, but from what I understand, there are some documented cases where the DID’s psychological state does affect his or her physiological condition.
- So does the plot twist mean there’s going to be a Shyamalan Cinematic Universe? Or, at least, an Unbreakable franchise?
- Seriously, without that plot twist, the supernatural aspect of the 24th personality won’t quite work effectively. It was even kind of dumb. But since Split is revealed to be set in the Unbreakable universe, then it’s essentially a super hero/comic book movie, serving as an origin story of a super-villain. Genius!
- The McAvoy dance scene is awesome.
- What makes the reveal that Casey is molested by her uncle important to her arc is not necessarily because it would lead to her being spared by “The Beast”, but it made her somewhat collected and patient behavior during her captivity make more sense, as it meant she’s already familiar being treated perversely, and has some idea on what can be done in such experience.
- I like to think that the traumatic experience she had with Kevin’s, piled on top her own personal traumas growing up, would allow her mind to trigger her body to manifest superpowers.
- I never had this much delight in seeing Bruce Willis on screen since R.E.D. 2.