D: M. Night Shyamalan / 117m
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus, Izzie Coffey
After a party at their local mall, birthday girl Claire (Richardson) and her friend Marcia (Sula) offer withdrawn classmate and pity invite Casey (Taylor-Joy), a ride home. But in the car park, a stranger (McAvoy) gets in the car instead of Claire’s father, and he uses a spray to render the three girls unconscious. When they wake, they find themselves in a locked basement room, but otherwise unhurt. Their abductor, Dennis, tells them that they’ll be perfectly safe, as long as they don’t try to escape; they’ve been taken because “someone” is coming. Meanwhile, Dennis attends therapy sessions with Dr Karen Fletcher (Buckley), but when he does he’s called Barry, and he’s a different personality altogether. And this is the point: Dennis and Barry are just two of twenty-three personalities living in the body of the man known as Kevin Wendell Crumb.
With one of the personalities sending urgent e-mails to Dr Fletcher on a regular basis, but Barry assuring her everything is okay, she suspects something has happened that has prompted this cry for help. As she attempts to work out just what that something might be, the girls make an attempt at escaping. Claire manages to get out of the room they’re in but she’s soon captured and locked in a separate room; the same fate eventually befalls Marcia. Casey tries to strike up a relationship with another of Kevin’s multiple personalities, a nine year old boy called Hedwig. He warns her that the “someone” who is coming is actually known as the Beast, and as Hedwig adds quite cheerfully, “He’s done awful things to people and he’ll do awful things things to you.” With Casey and Dr Fletcher arriving at the truth of things from different angles, it’s still down to the three girls to find a way out and back to safety before the Beast arrives.
With each new M. Night Shyamalan movie, it seems everyone is in agreement: he’s making better movies now from when he used to make absolute tosh like The Happening (2008) and The Last Airbender (2010). But while that may be true (and to make movies worse than either of those mentioned would be a feat in itself), it’s also true that he’s still not anywhere near to making movies as accomplished as The Sixth Sense (1999), or fan favourite, Unbreakable (2000). But while he’s still got a way to go, Split is certainly a good indication that he’s getting there. He’s helped in no small part by McAvoy’s incredibly detailed and nuanced performances as seven of Wendell’s multiple personalities, and Taylor-Joy’s practical captive with a relevant back story.
But while his cast go to great lengths to make his story at least halfway credible, and Shyamalan himself directs with great skill, as a writer he still manages to stumble too often for comfort, and the script fails to answer several important questions, the main one being, why is Hedwig’s drawing of the Beast not even remotely like the version we see towards the end – and especially after Dr Fletcher asserts that “an individual with multiple personalities can change their body chemistry with their thoughts”? (Oh, really?) It’s about time that Shyamalan let somebody else write the script because it’s the one area in which he consistently lets himself, and his movies, down. In the end, it’s all nonsense, but it could have been much more enjoyable nonsense, and McAvoy’s dexterous performances could have been part of a better showcase for his talents.
Rating: 6/10 – let down by a script that starts off strong then slowly but surely runs out of steam and ideas by the halfway mark, Split still qualifies as a stepping stone on the path of Shyamalan’s rehabilitation as a quality movie maker; McAvoy is terrific, the eerie nature of the basement rooms makes for a good mise en scène, and then there’s that final scene, which, depending on your love for a certain movie, will either have you whooping with joy, or wailing in despair.