Before ‘Split’, the last M. Night Shyamalan film I saw was ‘The Village.’ Suffice to say, that put me off his films for a long time! ‘The Village’ was a dull film capped off with a silly twist at the end. However, the mere premise of seeing James McAvoy play twenty three characters in one person made me curious about ‘Split.’ He’s someone who’s a very good actor, but has never truly pushed himself to strive greatness. From the preview of ‘Split,’ the few personalities he acted out look convincing. Fortunately, he’s great throughout the film. Unfortunately, the film hanging around him is rather contrived and dull…
James McAvoy, playing Kevin Wendell Crumb, has severe dissociative identity disorder. He has twenty three personalities, all of whom are scared of a mysterious twenty fourth personality, called “the beast” (no, it doesn’t turn out to be Brock Lesnar). ‘Dennis,’ one of Kevin’s personalities, kidnaps three teenage girls, Claire, Marcia and Casey. These are to be sacrificed to “the beast.” Kevin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, is concerned when “Barry” (another personality) contacts her, asking for a meeting. Are Kevin’s years of stability over? Who is controlling him? And will ‘The Beast’ arise?
“I’m trying to be good”
These questions are posed and answered in due time, but while we wait for the questions, we have to spend time with the girls. Claire and Marcia are only there to cry, scream and show the audience some flesh. “Dennis,” who has obsessive compulsive disorder (and likes teenage girls), asks them to take off various items of clothing. And that’s all Claire and Marcia seem to be in the film for; to give the males a bit of eye candy! Casey is the main character, along with Kevin. We see flashbacks of her childhood, showing potential abuse and a parrellel with Kevin’s childhood. Of course, being a Shyamalan film, you expect these flashbacks to lead somewhere. Whether or not they do, that’s not for me to spoil things. Even though she’s an interesting character, she too is reduced to eye candy in the finale, taking off items of clothing as well. It’s a typical horror trope for the females to reveal a fair amount of flesh, and ‘Split’ is more than happy to follow this tired trope. The sympathy built up for Casey is spoilt by the revelation of bare flesh.
The less said about psychiatrist Fletcher the better. Poor acting, poor scripting makes her scenes a chore to sit through. However, every time McAvoy is on the screen, the film leaps into life. He’s immediately distinct in his personalities, from the probably paedophile “Dennis” to nine year old “Hedwig” to “Patricia.” “Patricia” is a particularly memorable creation, a mix of Professor X and Judi Dench. McAvoy throws himself into the roles with aplomb. Of course, he hasn’t been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, but he should. He’s equal parts menacing, humorous, terrifying and compelling. However, it’s a shame that we only really get to see three or four of Kevin’s personalities. We see the other personalites in snapshots, making them almost redundant. Were twenty three personalities really necessary? Why not five or six? That’s enough!
“We are glorious”
Apart from the central conceit of Kevin’s split personalities (which is something of a lie when we only really see three or four of them!), ‘Split’ proceeds as a conventional horror/thriller. Kevin’s personalities terrorise the three girls in predictable fashion. It’s obvious which girl will turn the tables on Kevin, from the mere fact that Claire and Marcia are typical dumb American teenage girls. You can predict the next scene almost too easily. Kevin’s scenes with Fletcher are the only time that McAvoy doesn’t light up the screen, purely because Fletcher is so dull. In the end, they don’t add up too much, either. Are they simply padding, or mumbo jumbo to justify Kevin’s questionable condition?
I’ve heard that ‘Split’ is a return to form for Shyamalan, and I enjoyed it a little more than ‘The Village.’ As for his other films since then, I can’t comment! It’s a plodding thriller/horror that strides the line between the two without doing something interesting with its concept of split personalities. Casey has a semblance of interest, but she becomes little more than eye candy in the end. It’s McAvoy that truly saves the film from mediocrity, convincing us as distinct personalities within one person. Terrifying and tremendous, he deserves some plaudits for his performance! It’s a shame it’s included in a film that refuses to attain something brave and thought-provoking.
VERDICT: 4/10. Without McAvoy, I don’t know what score I’d give ‘Split.’ It’s a typical thriller/horror that wastes its concept of split personalities. Fortunately, McAvoy plays each personality spectacularly. It’s worth seeing for his performance(s) alone!
What did you think of ‘Split’? Leave your thoughts/comments below!