You don’t get all 23 personalities, but some of what you get is kind of…intriguing.
Split is the story of a man named Kevin (James McAvoy) who has 23 distinct personalities. He kidnaps three teens – Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) after a birthday party, and locks them up underground. The aim is to save the girls for the emerging 24th personality – “The Beast” – unless the girls convince one of the other personalities to let them go. Also intertwined in all of this is Kevin’s therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who senses something is wrong with her patient.
I am an M. Night Shyamalan fan, but over the last couple of years, I have been flat-out disappointed. The Visit was polarizing – you either loved it or hated it (I was the latter) – but even when you exclude that from the sum, the man once celebrated for films like The Sixth Sense and Signs has not had the best last few years. The Last Airbender, anyone? (Don’t bother looking it up; it was a horrible movie.)
While it lags in some parts, and went a little long for my liking, Split is fairly well-written, decently acted, and, in some cases, nail biting. This is not your run-of-the-mill Shyamalan – you’re not getting mind-blowing plot twists or prompts for deep thought – you’re getting a kind of muted suspense that tends to bite at you instead of smack you upside the head.
I really liked Buckley’s performance, but I think McAvoy and Taylor-Joy did a pretty good acting job in this film. I think they were ever so slightly failed by some of the writing – and at the end, I found myself looking for just a taste more of these two. As I mentioned earlier, there is no existential thought here, but there is some – and I think having made things a tad more obvious for the viewer may have given it that extra bit of chutzpah the film needed to go from ‘good’ to ‘great.’ Also – one of the more laughable points – we’ve been bombarded with the idea that there are 23 or so personalities (well, okay, 24) that we’ll get to meet in this film. We don’t meet all of them, and so I find that point of promotion hyped. If you’re going in to see McAvoy act out 23 different characters, don’t hold your breath. I think the big thing folks will appreciate is how developed the personalities McAvoy focuses on – are.
Now – for the big elephant in the room – yes, I have been watching the online reaction to this movie for quite a while – and I know it’s been controversial.
the movie Split looks like it could have a cool plot, except for the fact it portrays people with mental illness as violent ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
— linnea (@Linneaa24) January 19, 2017
— Kerrigan Smith (@kerr_bear9) January 19, 2017
I’ve seen plenty of posts suggesting the movie be banned or boycotted because it exploits people who have dissociative identity disorder. I’m not going to sit here and say, “don’t listen to the naysayers and go watch it,” or, “boycott this movie!” What I will say is that, in my own experience of viewing the film, I felt like the themes focusing on our humanity – like being different (note: this does NOT apply exclusively to McAvoy’s character, and in no way am I trying to discredit or insult people who are living with DID) what stood out for me, and those were the things I took away from the film.
Not everyone will be on board to watch this flick, but for those willing to give it a chance, it’s interesting, it’s intriguing, and McAvoy and Taylor-Joy are pretty good. So, I’m giving it a solid three out of five.