Split (2017). Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Haley Lu Richardson. A man with 23 personalities kidnaps three teenage girls as offerings to his emerging 24th personality, which he believes is a deadly monster with superhuman powers. Is he delusional or truly about to become a ravenous creature?
After her birthday dinner at the mall, popular girl Claire and her best pal Marcia are getting ready to head home with Claire’s father. He insists they offer a ride home to black clad misfit Casey after her transportation falls through. (Claire invited the gloomy loner out of guilt, and they aren’t really even friends.)
In the parking lot, they don’t get very far before being swiftly abducted by Dennis, a strange man with OCD who begins cleaning the interior of their vehicle prior to rendering all three girls unconscious and whisking them away to his evil lair.
The abduction scene itself is beautifully executed and Dennis’s silent and efficient demeanor is scary.
In a mysterious concrete maze of ominous industrial corridors, the three girls are locked in a room by their gruff captor.
Dennis targets Marcia for sex, but it doesn’t quite go the way you’d think.
Over time, Casey and the others discover that Dennis isn’t really Dennis at all.
He’s the prim and proper Miss Patricia, who assures them that Dennis won’t abuse them anymore and brushes their hair.
He’s also Hedwig, a 9-year-old hip hop fan who complains about his other personalities and their struggle for dominance, and an upbeat fashion designer named Barry.
It is Hedwig who tells the frightened captives about The Beast, a 24th identity slowly forming inside his own mind. And during a therapy session between Barry and his psychologist Dr. Karen Fletcher, we learn that her patient’s actual name is Kevin, who is afflicted with Dissociative Identity Disorder. He began manifesting alternate personalities after experiencing trauma in his youth.
Editor’s note: Dissociative Identity Disorder is more commonly known as multiple or split personalities. Hence the title, “Split.”
Barry describes the growing Beast personality to Fletcher in greater detail; it will have long fingers, be larger and more muscular than he is and have tough skin. With the kidnapping all over the news and her patient suddenly acting strangely, Fletcher develops suspicions that something is up and begins her own investigation.
While in captivity and attempting various avenues of escape, we learn Casey’s sad history through a series of bleak flashbacks to her childhood. You can feel the narrative momentum of these harrowing sequences, but in retrospect the subplot feels unsatisfying because it puts the audience through the emotional wringer with no final payoff.
Her brush with darkness as a kid plays a key role in the present, however I wanted a definitive closure to the events of the past and it never happens.
Casey repeatedly manipulates the innocent Hedwig as a means of possible escape. At one point, Hedwig takes Casey to his child’s bedroom to listen to his beloved rap music together. As she watches, mesmerized, he performs an elaborate and energetic hip hop dance routine to Kanye West. Though Casey is a very compelling figure throughout, I particularly identified with her bewildered expression in that moment, stunned by both the sheer lunacy of the entire situation and Hedwig’s crazy mad dance skills.
James McAvoy is required to do and say things that might seem silly, but he attacks the roles both threatening and childlike with such fearless conviction. He sells every moment. Though I enjoyed the story, it’s worth seeing just for his incredible performances alone. And though it’s McAvoy’s show, Betty Buckley is wise and compassionate as Dr. Fletcher, and Anya Taylor-Joy (star of “The Witch”) turns in an excellent performance as the terrified and tough Casey.
M. Night Shyamalan is well-known for his climactic plot twists that change the scope of the story, so spoiling the ending would be criminal.
“Split” earns a high compliment in that it’s very different from anything I’ve seen in a long while. It’s perfect for fans of psychological thrillers with an extra helping of psychology, cannibalism, brilliant acting, Philadelphia and tense shotgun battles.