M. Night Shyamalan (the only director whose last name sounds like a doo-wop tune) is back again with a new Alfred Hitchcockian styled suspense-thriller; this time with an antagonist suffering from “dissociative identity disorder.” And like the movie’s deranged mental patient, the film’s narrative is kind of all over the place.
In Split, James McAvoy (Professor Charles Xavier of X-Men film fame) plays a man with 23 personalities, plus one called “the beast” that may also make an appearance. One of his multiple personalities is a woman, another a 9-year-old child, there’s one that is an effeminate fashion designer and one that is a clean freak.
To be honest, I couldn’t keep track of which personality was which, but the film begins with the neatness nerd (I think) capturing three teenage girls and taking them to his hidden basement hideout where they are to be sacrificed to the “beast” personality at some point.
Claire (played by Phoenix’s Haley Lu Richardson) is an uppity, rich, wannabe leader type who can’t seem to get the other girls to follow her. Marcia (Jessica Sula) is Claire’s best friend; and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the loner-girl with a secret past that you know will somehow play into the movie’s plot.
We also have an elderly psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who works with Kevin and his “others” and she provides seemingly endless exposition regarding dissociative identity disorder and its associated symptoms and treatment.
Will the young women escape with their lives? Will we actually see “the beast”? Is there going to be twist at the end? (Like you need to ask … this IS a Shyamalan movie – and he does a pretty good job of keeping you guessing as to what that twist might be.)
Split could stand to have about 30 minutes edited from its overlong running time (of almost two hours). Scenes involving Dr. Fletcher are particularly bloated and become downright aggravating to watch after a while (including a ridiculous cameo scene with the director and a pile of Hooters wings. Yeah, you read that right.)
There is some controversy surrounding this film and its portrayal of serious mental illness, but I found its scenes of child abuse and of teen self-mutilation more disturbing than whether or not the multiple personality disorder was portrayed properly. Either way, you’ve been warned.
McAvoy’s acting here (as over-the-top as it is) is likely to get the lion’s share of the accolades for this film, but I think that Anya Taylor-Joy actually delivers the better performance. She’s the young actress who wowed audiences last year in The Witch (and won the Phoenix Film Critics Society award for Breakthrough Performance.)
If you are a M. Night Shyamalan fan, then you’ll absolutely want to see this movie (and you’ll likely be thrilled by its ending); otherwise, this is a mixed bag of meandering plot points that include unnecessary threads that have nothing to do with anything.
I quite liked Shyamalan’s last effort, The Visit (2015), where he was firing, once again, on all cylinders; but with Split the performances of McAvoy and Taylor-Joy (and an ending that I liked a lot) are all that save it from disaster. Grade: 5.5/10
Photos © 2016 Universal Pictures