What it's about:
While the mental divisions of those with dissociative identity disorder have long fascinated—and eluded—science, it is believed that some can also manifest unique physical attributes for each personality, a cognitive and physiological prism within a single being.
What we thought:
I’m in two minds about whether to like this movie or not. But, considering I don't have to battle 23 conflicting personalities, I’m probably in a better space than poor Kevin...
Shyamalan hits the nail on the head with the thriller part of the film – it is truly scary to think of the possibilities a person is capable of when there is such confusion inside of them. Both McAvoy and Buckley play their roles so convincingly, that there is seemingly nothing unrealistic about the personality disorder or the confusing scenario the three captive girls find themselves in.
What takes away from this ‘realness’, however, is adding a horror element to the film – nothing quite dilutes the essence of a plot like underwhelming graphics of blood and guts – or having the whole climax revolve around scantily clad teenage girls in peril.
Split, unfortunately, has both.
And, although fail-proof to add an imminent and unknown ‘beast’ to build up anticipation, the adding of Kevin’s 24th otherworldly personality takes away from the frightening situation that dissociative identity disorder (DID) is real. And it also puts Split in the middle of the pack along with other films I can’t remember.
There is potential in the film, sadly.
It's a shame that the story, which keeps reminding us that there are 23 personalities, only chooses to show the audience about 8 of them for no particular reason.
The scenes with psychiatrist Dr Fletcher are intriguing and well thought-out, and very necessary. Without some sort of reference to the real life, and Dr Fletcher explicitly having to spell everything out, the viewer would actually have no idea what the hell is going on.
She's staked her career on proving that people with DID are actually super-humans, and Kevin is her model patient. He usually sees her in the form of Barry, a fashion designer, but when the plot thickens Fletcher starts to suspect the person visiting her is actually the perverted, OCD alter ego Dennis, pretending to be Barry.
It's a construct that should increase the tension immediately (especially knowing that there are three girls in his basement), but it never really lands despite some menacing ambiguity in McAvoy.
The girls, as one would expect from hysterical, half-naked characters in a horror movie, are mostly non-entities with the exception of Casey Cook, the outsider.
Unlike the other girls, Casey has a disturbing backstory that we get a peek at through multiple flashbacks. Using her abusive past, Shyamalan attempts to create some sort of poetic justice when he spares her life because she is ‘impure’. This is problematic in more ways that I think Shyamalan intended, but luckily (read: hopefully), the audience won’t think that far.
The point is this: You never want to find yourself in a purported thriller/horror asking yourself whether it's going to be slaughter or rape.
There are positives. McAvoy’s performance is excellent and it’s delightfully weird to see him playing the various iterations of Kevin.
There are also moments in the film that are really and truly frightening - which is what you're after, right? And here’s the kicker – there’s a surprise ending too… It doesn't quite live up to its potential, but it's the ultimate Shyamalan creation.