Director-M. Night Shyamalan
Starring-James McAvoy, Anya Taylor Joy
Scott’s Review #821
Reviewed October 18, 2018
Split (2016) is the second part of a planned trilogy, the first being Unbreakable (2000), and the third to debut in 2019. This point was confusing to me since I did not notice any correlation between the films until the final scene and even that was not very clear. Split has its ups and downs, mainly that the performance of James McAvoy is spectacular and the highlight, but the film is sadly riddled with many plot holes and some nonsense. I do not predict the film will be remembered all too well.
Casey (Joy) is a withdrawn teenage girl with an abusive past at the hands of her uncle, who raised her after her father died. She, along with two other girls are accosted by a man (McAvoy) who chloroforms them and takes them to a hidden basement. The girls quickly learn that their abductor is Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). His personalities range from a nine-year-old child, to an effeminate artist, to a well-dressed woman, and Kevin.
The audience (but not the girls) learns that Kevin is in therapy and in the care of Doctor Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) an established Philadelphia psychiatrist. Fletcher is aware of Kevin’s other personalities, and of an additional personality deemed “The Beast”, who she assumes is a fantasy super-hero figure. Karen slowly pieces together the frightening depth of Kevin’s disorder and must race against time to save the girls.
McAvoy, mostly known for his great performances in The Last King of Scotland (2006) and Atonement (2007), but also a central figure in the X-Men film franchise (2011-2019), knocks it out of the park. What a challenging role (or roles!) for the handsome, Scottish actor. He is convincing as the stoic and confident Kevin and provides the perfect swagger as “Patricia” and “Dennis”. Finally, he plays nine-year-old “Hedwig” to perfection with childhood innocence and insecurities. The casting of McAvoy is a treat and a success.
How lovely to see film and television stalwart Betty Buckley back in the game with a central film role. To say nothing of the actress’s achievements on stage in play after play, the woman is a legend in the other genres. Eagle-eyed horror fans will undoubtedly remember Buckley’s role as the sympathetic gym teacher in Carrie (1976). In Split, she portrays another benevolent character as she is concerned for her patient’s well-being, not realizing the sinister sides he keeps hidden. The role is perfect for the warm Buckley.
Written, co-produced, and directed by the acclaimed M. Night Shyamalan, Split is no masterpiece like The Sixth Sense (1999) or even on par with The Village (2004). Instead, the result is a peculiar and uneven effort- the fascination is with McAvoy’s twenty-three different personalities, granted we only see four or five of them.
The film misses with the numerous backstory scenes of Casey and her uncle, hunting in the woods. These scenes slow down the action and seem overly lengthy. She was abused and can now handle herself- we get it. This point could have been achieved with in one scene.
The relationships between the three girls is okay, but the story point of Casey being an outcast and different from the other two girls seems unnecessary and thrown in. The final scene of Bruce Willis (as Dennis Dunn from Unbreakable) is somewhat of a nice nod to the previous film but lost on anyone who either has not seen the film or has not seen it since it premiered well over a decade ago. More of a connection between the two stories should have been featured.
In addition to McAvoy’s impressive performance a positive is how there are no male characters designed to “save the day” as is still typical with mainstream films. In fact, the heroes of the film are Casey (a teenage girl) and Karen (a woman in her sixties). Credit must be given to attempts at making Split a more progressive minded film, despite all the story pieces not aligning.
The result of the film is fair to middling- Split (2016) is not a great effort, but a decent watch. The highlights are McAvoy, a worthy role for veteran Buckley, and some good tension and moments of good peril. The story is not the high point to the film and Shyamalan has certainly made much better films.