Hi everyone, this review comes a little late… I’m not sure if Split is even still out at the cinema, but if it is PLEASE go and see it! Anyway…
So I’ve seen Split twice now, and I am blown away. This is M. Night Shyamalan returning to his element. He shines with this film, and its quality is on par with his earlier work; The Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable. I loved every second of this movie and I’m genuinely excited to see it again.
James McAvoy is absolutely phenomenal, and his performance is beautiful. He is intense, terrifying, tragic, funny, and utterly captivating.
What excites me most is the ending… I won’t spoil it right now, but there is a sort of twist, and it’s beautiful. It’s not as drastic a twist as Shyamalan has used before, but in this case that’s a very good thing. He’s walked a more subtle path in this film, and fans of his past movies will really get a kick out of it. I know I did. In fact I actually cheered out loud at the reveal, and was so excited I accidentally spoiled it for my brother who hadn’t seen it yet.
So… onto more of an actual review.
Split follows a man who has DID, Dissociative Identity Disorder, and the effects, both physical and psychological, that the disorder has on him.
The film’s premise takes the idea that identity disorders can potentially alter your body chemistry; the subject’s psychologist describes several examples where sufferers have been blind in one identity and had normal sight in another, or were allergic to certain foods in one identity and had no such allergies in another, and so on.
We’re introduced to James McAvoy’s character, a mysterious and silent man who kidnaps three teenage girls. He is then introduced to us through a meeting with his psychologist as Barry; but he is friendly, chatty, and artistic, not at all the man the audience has seen until now.
We learn gradually that this man is host to 23 distinct individual identities, and that they are vying for control in order to protect the man’s original identity, Kevin Wendell Crumb, who is described as a very weak man by one of the other identities. Two of the identities are called “undesirables” by their psychologist, and have gained control of Kevin’s body. They are controlling the other identities through scaring them with tales of a 24th identity called “The Beast”.
I just want to say at this point that every performance in this film is absolutely spot-on. James McAvoy is breathtaking; this may be his greatest work to date. Anya Taylor-Joy is intense and stunning as Casey Cooke, and her performance was absolutely perfect; subtle and real, and utterly believable. Betty Buckley was unbeatable as Dr. Karen Fletcher, and her performance was as captivating as it was beautiful. She was chilling and inspiring and intelligent and just perfect in the role.
The three girls who are kidnapped try several times to escape, with the most intricate escape plans orchestrated by Casey Cooke (played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who I’ve never seen in other work but who absolutely nailed her performance in this), a quiet, calculating teen who keeps a level head where the other two completely panic. She finds herself engaging with one of the identities, a nine year old boy called Hedwig who obviously takes a liking to Casey.
The film slowly showcases subtle examples of “Kevin’s” different physical traits depending on who is inhabiting his body (or who is “in the light” as they call it), and slowly builds towards a suspension of disbelief in the audience in preparation for the unveiling of “The Beast”. One of my favourite examples is that Hedwig is unable to open a door that the girls are blocking despite literally throwing himself at it several times; but an identity called Dennis (one of the undesirables) can push the door open relatively easily even with all three girls pushing against the other side.
***MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING OH MY GOODNESS DO NOT KEEP READING IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE***
Now, I’m a huge fan of Shyamalan’s earlier work and it was at this point that I started hoping that this movie was somehow related to Unbreakable. It had the same tone, and same “almost reality”, but with a believably unreal quality to it; think Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but less gadgets and much more “real-world”. In fact, nearing the end of the movie, I decided to believe that this movie was based in the same world as Unbreakable regardless of how it ended.
It turns out I was massively rewarded for that belief; Finally, at the end of the film, we get to see “The Beast”, and he is glorious.
He is a true super-villain, in a real-world setting. He is stronger, faster, and more… Unbreakable than any regular human could ever be. And he is evil. He feasts on the flesh of the impure, a word which he has decided means “anyone who has never experienced trauma”.
He describes them as “still asleep”, and his warped idea of the next step in human evolution is growth through pain and suffering; since he himself was born through the trauma and pain of his host’s original identity. Kevin Wendell Crumb was abused as a child and his first alternate identity was born in his first experience with abuse.
I really love this because it’s such a beautifully tragic origin story for a villain. The Beast was created, born from thin air, as the defence mechanism of a terrified young boy who just wanted to feel safe in his own home. The Beast was a very real physical manifestation of all the power, confidence and superhuman ability that Kevin had always wished he could have; and his disorder gave it life.
Now, I still haven’t revealed how I was rewarded for hoping that this was related to Unbreakable…
***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS***
Well, right at the end of the movie, we see that The Beast has escaped and is at large. There is a news report on the television of a random diner, where the reporter states that because of the unique state of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s disorder, he has now been dubbed by the public as “The Horde”. The reporter goes on to say, in a slightly more conversational tone with her co-anchor, that it reminds her of another criminal who was locked away about 15 years ago, who was also given an odd nickname by the public. She cannot recall the name, but the camera pans to one of the patrons of the diner, an instantly recognisable face wearing a jumpsuit with the surname “Dunn” stitched into the breast pocket… And he certainly remembers the name.
“Mr Glass,” he mutters to himself, looking as exhausted as he does resolute…
Fucking drop the mic, roll the credits, holy fuck! What an amazing way to reveal that Split was just the villain origin story for the next Unbreakable movie!
YAS! YAS YAS YAS!!!
I can’t believe how well done this was, despite my self-assurance halfway through the movie that it was totally related to Unbreakable, it still blew my mind actually seeing Bruce Willis on screen and having it confirmed. I haven’t been this excited over a non-comic book and/or non-Star Wars movie for a very long time.
Split is powerful yet subtle, ominous yet entertaining, tense yet beautiful. I really, really mean it when I say that M. Night Shyamalan is BACK!