- Directed, Written, and Produced by M. Night Shyamalan
- September 26, 2016 (Fantastic Fest) / January 20, 2017 (US)
Three young girls are kidnapped by a man with 24 different personalities as he prepares for the emergence of a new and more dangerous aspect.
Split has been called a stealth sequel and the first supervillain origin film. That is one of its strengths. Despite being part of another film, it stands completely on its own making it accessible to not only those that saw the first but to those that have not. And it focuses not on the hero but the villain which was at the time completely unique.
First and foremost, I must give praise to James McAvoy and his amazing performance here as Kevin Wendell Crumb and the character’s alters. Kevin suffers from DID and demonstrates several different personalities during the course of the film though it is stated he has a total of 23. It is so severe that each is unaware of what the others do and at points each personality has its own body chemistry such as the one identified as Jade being diabetic.
Characters in film and television with multiple personality are nothing new. But what makes McAvoy’s performance so amazing is that each personality he portrays is unique unto itself. Each is a distinct character. You know when you’re seeing Patricia or Hedwig or any of the others. This film made me a believer in his talent. I’m not saying I hated him before, but Split demonstrated he has great ability. To create multiple characters in a single with each being so clearly different is true skill.
The personalities range from threatening (Dennis) to juvenile (Hedwig-the dominant alter who controls “the light” through which they take control of Kevin’s body). The personalities have split into two camps. One group wishes to get better to one extent or another. The other believes in an entity called “The Beast” which is a 24th personality yet to reveal itself that they believe will come and purify the world through suffering. Religious fanaticism? Doomsday cult? There are parallels there. Why is this important? Because The Beast has abilities and is seen as a higher form of life by its followers.
Split also quite possibly made Anya Taylor-Joy’s career. Of the three victims kidnapped by Dennis, her character of Casey is clearly the smart one. She is the second central character of the story and there’s a mixture of fear and intelligence that she operates with during the course of the movie. Flashback scenes illuminate just why that is. To put it mildly she has had a messed up life. Like Kevin, Casey is the victim of abuse but has managed to survive it and that ability to survive has prepared her for what she must face.
There is not a great deal of action in this movie. Rather it is dialogue heavy and a lot of tension building. M. Night Shyamalan spends a great deal of the story’s time building up the characters and the situation. By the finale things feel almost apocalyptic even though the cast of characters is relatively small. Then again the events of this story affect the world of the characters and not necessarily the entire world.
The weirdness of the situation is not only accomplished by McAvoy’s amazing performance and creation of multiple individuals but also the environment in which the story largely occurs. The girls are held in a twisting labyrinth of pipe filled tunnels that comes across as some dark underground world. The personalities have built their own home and prison in this complex.
M. Night Shyamalan is one of my favorite directors. Some of his films are better than others but he definitely pushes to do things different. He tries to be unique and create something special rather than squeeze out the usual. Here he crafted one of the more intriguing comic book style stories.
On the surface it is about a superpowered villain having their minions prepare for his arrival. But it is also about survival and emotional damage. Claire has found strength to make it through her individual situation (though she is not free of it) which gives her strength in the present while Kevin has become a victim with his issues leading to something far worse for everyone.
Split is a fantastic film with a mind-boggling performance by James McAvoy and a career making turn by Anya Taylor-Joy. With M. Night Shyamalan’s usual great script and sound directing, this is a must-see film and most assuredly a classic of the genre.