“He’s done awful things to people and he’ll do awful things things to you.”
Sigh. And so begins my review of another Shyamalan movie (click here for my review of ‘The Visit’). So much has been said about the man’s career; how he “started with great promise in the form of ‘The Sixth Sense‘ then gradually descended to total flop with ‘The Lady In The Water'”. I’m not going to rehash that all here – not because I don’t agree with the thinking, I really do agree with it, but I feel it’s not required reading in this film’s case.
‘Split’ tells the story of a man (McAvoy) who has dissociative identity disorder. He has 23 different personalities – although we only see 9. One of these personalities abducts three teenage girls and holds them captive. Is the reason they are being held there as terrifying as it appears?
This is the kind of movie that will Split audiences (*ba dum tss*) for many differences. As the film features nine different personalities I’ll divide this review into nine different reasons you may like or loathe the film. I’ll try to keep this spoiler light, though you have been warned!
1) Dissociative Identity Disorder
As far as I’m aware this isn’t actually a widely accepted mental disorder and one which doesn’t appear much outside of cinema & tv. The best representation I’ve seen of it was in season 2, episode 1 of ‘Lie To Me’ The episode, entitled ‘The Core Of It’, featured Erika Christensen playing a woman terrified by memory loss which was believed to be this disorder. It was portrayed with great sympathy and understanding. With ‘Split’ it is used simply as a plot point, in fact it’s the crux of the entire film, and is shown in a manner that is rather exploitative.
2. James McAvoy
However the film does let us see McAvoy shine in nine different roles. It is great kudos to his talent that each personality is well defined and distinguishable from the other eight personas. His Patricia (think 1950s school matron) is particularly chilling. A dance number by Hedwig (a small boy) somehow manages to find the balance between funny and strangely sad.
3. ‘The Beast’
However, personality number nine then manages to derail things. Throughout the film the captive trio are warned that ‘He’ is coming and the ‘The Beast’ has plans for them. I won’t go into this too much but I found the big reveal disappointing, overshadowed by both dodgy special effects and an underprepared for shift into the supernatural.
4. Mental Health
I HATED ‘The Visit’ for its treatment of mental health. I really struggled with ‘Split’ for the same reasons. Both films use mental health to excuse characters behaviours by exploiting various mental health conditions. Both have moments where actions are explained by ‘well, they are mental!’ or ‘Oh, they did that because they are mental.’ As someone who has issues with mental health it really doesn’t sit well with me.
5. Other revelations
Casey (Taylor-Joy) is our lead protagonist and the focus is on her on whether she’ll escape. She’s essentially our ‘Final Girl’ archetype; the loner outcast with a dark past. Shyamalan choses to explore this (woop!) but it all gets very dark (hmmm?) and rather exploitative (boo!). I’ll remain vague but whilst I thought the use of flashback was good but the content, rationale behind it & then utilisation to further the plot all rather extremely unsettling.
6. Anya Taylor-Joy
However, Taylor-Joy really delivers with her performance. Like McAvoy she works wonders with what she’s been given. After her breakthrough performance in ‘The Witch‘ (click here for my review) she reminds us yet again of her power and even great potential as an actress. She makes Casey a figure easy to empathise with and one you really root for when the going gets…weird.
As a result of this care for Casey as a character, when she is in danger we fear for her. Many sequences, of varying degrees of action/talking , are edge-of-your-seat fayre. And only a few of them were given away in the trailer! There’s enough withholding of information to keep up the intrigue and motivate us to keep watching.
8. Plot Twist
The Shyamalan schtick has been to have a plot twist in the final arc to jazz up events. The approach being akin to an arrogant child shouting in your face ‘You thought you’d worked it out? Wrong! Here’s something you didn’t know. Ha!’ For most it’s an aggravating form of storytelling that strays into laziness. There’s not really one here which is a great thing.
9. A thing
A thing/revelation happens in the final moments which will be an exciting thing for many people. Not so much for the screening I was at as most people didn’t get it. But, to stay vague again, if you like some of Shyamalan’s previous works there’s some fan service payoff.
All in all, s’alright. Most likely won’t be in the top ten worst movies of the year but it certainly won’t be in the top ten best either.
‘Split’ was shown at a Den of Geek screening followed by a director/cast Q&A on Friday the 13th of Jan. It opened in UK cinemas on 20th Jan.
Year: 2017 Run time:117 minutes Dir: M. Night Shyamalan