*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
Films such as Fight Club, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Raising Cain and Psycho are great examples of films that deal with split personalities; M. Night Shyamalan is known for directing intriguing films in the horror/thriller/suspense genres. Put these two elements together, add the M. Night “twist” and you get nothing but a fantastic, thrilling ride. It is a shame that M. Night has the stigma of being a director that “doesn’t deliver” with flops such as The Village, Lady in the Water & The Happening but with his last film The Visit and now Split I truly believe that image will be shed.
First and foremost James McAvoy steals the film. I couldn’t start without first saying that because that he does. Each personality is in itself their own person with their own self defining traits, grammar and gestures. Unlike the other films I mentioned the viewer goes into the film knowing what McAvoy is suffering from and those other films never had the personalities interact with each other **Note: Never interacted with the viewer knowing they had split personalities** So before the film starts viewers are already anticipating McAvoy’s performance because that’s what brought them in, what will keep them intrigued and push the film forward to its climatic end.
What I felt the film did well was add in the therapy side to the story. The film is not a straight forward thriller that showcases a person suffering with multiple personalities and the horrors he commits. The film tries to give the viewer another view of the “villain” who is merely someone that suffers from a debilitating disease. Another added twist is the theory that this can be the next step in human evolution; multiple personalities is not a disease but rather a glimpse as to what the human mind is capable of. McAvoy’s therapist in the film believes that each individual identity in her patients are in fact a completely different person. Some may be stronger, others weak, some prone to diabetes while others are completely healthy the patients physiology changes as per the identity that is strongest.
It is with this new aspect to the story that makes its climax that more appealing. The film builds to the arrival of “The Beast” the newly formed 24th identity. I initially thought this would be where the film levels out but this is where we get the classic M. Night twist… The Beast is no mere extra identity but truly a monster that is worth the wait. With blood shot eyes, pulsating veins and grey skin tone it is clear McAvoy has transcended into a higher form not just in mind. Unfortunately the therapist is the first to feel The Beast’s wrath and is crushed to death by a vicious bear hug. It is also this scene where we are made aware that The Beast is a “higher being” as he is crushing his therapist she stabs him repeatedly with a knife that snaps in two and does no harm much like a hammer smashing a rock.
The final moments of the film were beyond fun to watch because M. Night brought the story in such a different direction it felt as if it were a different movie altogether. Unfortunately there was one aspect I did not enjoy as I’m not the sure the message was 100% clear and that is the back story for Casey played by Anya Taylor-Joy. In a very predictable story that is spread throughout the film we see that Casey was molested by her Uncle as a child growing up. In fact it is this that saves Casey from The Beast as she is covered in self-made cuts/scars most likely from her childhood trauma and as The Beast tells her “the broken are more evolved”. So am I left to believe being molested as a child saved her from being killed or almost being killed by a real monster has given Casey the courage to stand up against her Uncle whom she lives with since her father passed away.
Although shot twice up close by Casey with a shot gun The Beast manages to get away to everyone’s surprise, the viewer as well as McAvoy’s personalities who wonder in amazement how they are not injured. The film ends with a montage of news reports and cuts to customers watching TV in a diner. A girl mentions “this sounds like that guy in the wheelchair, what was his name?” and BOOM we get the extra M. Night twist because it is David Dunn, Bruce Willis’ character from M. Night’s 2000 film Unbreakable, who responds “Mr. Glass”. Split takes place in the same universe as Unbreakable which only means The Beast is an entity with extraordinary abilities much like Willis’ Dunn had super strength and the ability to not be hurt. Where M. Night plans on going now is unknown as this tease would only stir interest in an Unbreakable sequel but his next slated project is Labor of Love. Hopefully we get a sequel, be it Split or Unbreakable, as I think a larger story can be told; one that M. Night Shyamalan can steer us fans in all sorts of great unexpected twists and turns.
3.5 out of 5
Split will be in theaters Friday January 20, 2017