Split (2017)6:40 AM
Kevin has 23 distinct personalities. The 24th is about to be unleashed.
Split is directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Visit) and stars James McAvoy (X-Men, Filth), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Morgan) and Betty Buckley (Eight is Enough, The Happening). "Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, and must try and escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th". M. Night Shyamalan started to see more positive acclaim with 2015's The Visit - is it truly a return to form for the king of thrillers?
M. Night Shyamalan really is on a roll - if you can remember, I thoroughly enjoyed The Visit and really appreciated the twist - it was one of the most pleasantly surprising films of 2015. You can read my review for that flick here. Back to Split, once again, Shyamalan has created a creepy, unsettling, tension-filled thriller that really pays off with a mad but convincing twist. Split has amazing performances, a really original concept and a plot that is what nightmares are made of. The film has a few minor flaws and I don't think it will be for everyone, Split is definitely an intellectual film - for passive viewers, it could easily come across as silly and stupid.
Let's begin with the highlight of the film - James McAvoy - this really is a star turn for the actor and definitely a career highlight. I haven't been this blown away by an actor in a while. McAvoy isn't playing just one character but 24 (we only get to see about 10 of those personalities though) and each 'identity' is distinguishable and I actually believed they were different characters. I just wish the academy would consider a film like Split as McAvoy's performance is truly special and unlike any other. It honestly blows this year's leading actor nominees out of the water. McAvoy acts like a child, a middle aged woman, a budding fashionista, a twisted pervert and the beast. He does everything so well. This is a film that asks a lot from its leading actor and James McAvoy was definitely the right guy for the job as he really delivers. McAvoy isn't the only exceptional performance though as this cast is brilliant across the board -Anya Taylor-Joy really works well in horror and is a terrific young actress. She was excellent in The Witch and I was really impressed by her again. She really knows how to look scared and that makes the audience feel even more scared for her. With actresses like Taylor-Joy rising, the future of Hollywood looks bright. On the other end of the scale, we have an older actress in the form of Betty Buckley - Buckley has a lot less to do than the others mentioned but she is still very good and gives Lin Shaye a run for her money. The acting in Split is superb and the other girls being held captive are also very good. A special shoutout has to go to Izzie Coffey who isn't just adorable but is a true little star - this kid can act and there really is a spark in her eyes that demands attention but also makes you feel her emotions.
The set up for Split is actually pretty original - we can pretty much always rely on M. Night Shyamalan for an original idea - whether that idea is executed well or not is a different story. I am actually surprised DID (multi-personalities) hasn't been looked at before in a mainstream film because it truly is an intriguing and unbelievable (but real) thing. I also think the whole idea of kidnapping is horrible - any film that involves kidnapping has me on the edge of my seat as it was one of biggest fears growing up. Then imagine your kidnapper being virtually 24 different people in one body - you wouldn't know what to think! The young actresses do a terrific job conveying this shock, terror and confusion. I'm not sure how accurate Split is scientifically, but from reading interviews, M. Night Shyamalan has said he hasn't had too much backlash which suggests everything (expect for the supernatural twist) is pretty accurate. This is very scary to think. I think that's what makes Split an even more scary film - the subject at hand may be rare but it is real and I think that is really thought-provoking. I get chills even thinking about it. Split is an incredibly intellectual film and I think there are some interesting perspectives on mental illness. However, for some, I believe it may completely wash over them and find the whole thing silly - you have to be really invested in this story and characters (which actually isn't that hard).
Is Split a terrifying film? Yes and No. I wouldn't class it as a horror and there aren't many jumpy moments - this is definitely a thriller - it is from M. Night Shyamalan after all. I actually found Split to be quite a slow burn - the whole thing was a mystery, you were waiting for a revelation and for it to all kick off. Even though you get to see what is going on outside of the room's where the girls are being held, you still don't know what is going on - the story is told from the perspectives of two different female characters that are trying to solve this mystery. Buckley's Dr. Karen Fletcher who is trying to figure it all out from a scientific perspective and then Taylor-Joy's Casey who wants to figure a way out of escaping from this crazy man. Hedwig is a pretty ironic identity as he is happy, youthful, energetic and funny but that makes him all the more creepy - seeing a grown man act like this is very unsettling - you just never know when the personality would switch. I also was discomforted by Patricia - McAvoy's mannerisms as the character were very chilling. I would say Split is like Prisoners (tense and twisted) meets 10 Cloverfield Lane (held captive by a strange man) - and it is as good as both of them films. Split also manages to create and build tension consistently throughout - that is a quality I always admire in films (see my review of Sicario) and Split masters it. An example of a scene that I thought was really well done is where the two girls are trying to get out of the cupboards they have been locked in using a hanger to slide the lock - it really gets you on the edge of your seat as you're really routing for them to escape so when you see the lock slide back and forth, it really has you gasping.
So this is where the twists begin, in the final act. The first twist isn't unguessable or even a huge twist, the film just ended up going somewhere I didn't think it would go. I thought this whole idea of 'the beast' was just a red-herring and there would be something to explain it but oh no, McAvoy really unlocked his 24th identity as the beast and it was so twisted, so crazy, so mad that it took me back a little. It's one of those twists that makes you go - WHAT THE F**K?! - I had to watch videos afterwards that explained it and it actually all makes sense. Click here and here for a couple of videos I found useful as I'm not sure how useful my explanation will be. So, we find out that the girls are being held captive underneath a zoo which is where Barry (McAvoy) works - this means McAvoy has had the time to mentally learn how certain animals act. The mind is then able to create something beyond the belief of humans - McAvoy is as quick as a cheetah, hard skinned as a Rhino, climbs like a Lizard and has the appetite and mentality of a Lion/Tiger. WHATTTTTTT. It is just crazy but I kind of like it and it works. The shots we see of the beast eating the other girls are truly gruesome and horrific though. However, Casey is able to survive - this is because it is unfolded throughout the film that she has been sexually abused by her uncle who is now her guardian - this explains why she wears so many layers of clothing which is the subject of an early joke. The beast says to Casey that 'the broken are more evolved' and even though it comes from a masterful villain, I really like this quote and it is true - those who are really broken, have been put through a lot and an optimistic way of looking at that is they are stronger humans for it. Barry also had a troubled past so it's like there is still some humanity within the beast as Casey is seen as 'Pure' whilst the other two girls were impure (they harassed him a few weeks prior as a prank). This is such a crazy, unpredictable yet somewhat predicable twist that makes sense and I appreciate it all the more looking back.
The second twist is one I don't think I will appreciate as much as others. Split is connected to another M. Night Shyamalan film - Unbreakable and it's likely that we will be getting a sequel to both films that is the same film. Bruce Willis' character in Unbreakable is going to try and take down James McAvoy's 24 different identities as he is on the loose. The whole story of Split was just a red herring - this was never about three girls trying to escape, it was introducing a new super villain. I don't this has ever been done before - an origin story (as such) for a villain as well as an origin story for the hero. I haven't seen Unbreakable so it's only through research I have been able to find this out but I am going to watch Unbreakable straight after writing this review.
Split is masterful film making from M. Night Shyamalan and he proves once again why he is the reigning king of the thriller genre - he just knows how to get audiences on the edges of their seats and knows how to truly surprise them. This film will especially please fans of M. Night Shyamalan's previous work because of a shocking and exciting second twist. This is a career highlight for James McAvoy and another great performance from Anya Taylor-Joy. The set up is original and intellectual, the pay off is chilling, unsettling, creepy and scary. I don't recommend Split to everyone though as I think it's going to be a bit too much - you have to be willing to expect anything and everything. Split defies the reputation of January movies as this is a pretty exceptional and thrilling film.