After three girls are kidnapped by a man with 24 distinct personalities they must find some of the different personalities that can help them while running away and staying alive from the others.
#MNightShyamalan’s movies have been a mixed bag, to say the very least. While I enjoyed his first major hit, #TheSixthSense, I did not care for his follow-up, #Unbreakable. He returned in 2002 with the deliciously entertaining #Signs, but every film he has directed since, #TheVillage, #LadyintheWater, #TheHappening, #TheLastAirbender, #AfterEarth, and #TheVisit, have been pale imitations of his first few outings. I think by the time audiences got to “Signs,” they were already tiring of the fact that Mr. Shyamalan felt the incessant need to add a shocking twist to the finale of each of his movies, instead of trying to tell a good story. Suffice to say, I am not a big fan of the filmmaker in general but with #Split, the director has at least attempted to tell a decent story that is not dependent on an ending filled with subterfuge.
As the movie begins, three friends, Casey (#AnyaTaylorJoy), Marcia (#JessicaSula), and Claire (#HaleyLuRichardson), are at the mall with Claire’s dad, after having attended a friend’s birthday party. In the parking lot, having reached their car, all three girls get in and a few moments later, instead of Claire’s dad sitting in the driver seat, they are shocked to find a strange man, Dennis (#JamesMcAvoy), sitting in his place. He quickly sprays them with chloroform and the next moment, we are with them in a basement, watching them wake up. Scared, and not knowing what is happening, their fears are heightened even more when Dennis appears moments later, telling them that if they behave, they will not be hurt. He then leaves. After a few failed escape attempts, they hear voices in the hallway, directly outside their room. They call out for help and are shocked when Dennis re-enters the room but this time, dressed up in women’s clothing.
Every time he returns to the room, he is dressed differently and with a seemingly contrasting personality to his previous one and eventually, Casey realizes that he could be suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder ((Multiple Personality Disorder). Out of the 23 personalities he exhibits, Hedwig, that of a 10-year-old boy, is the one Casey tries to befriend, in the hopes that he will help her escape. On the outside, Dennis visits his psychiatrist once a week, Dr. Karen Fletcher (#BettyBuckley), but as his behavior becomes more and more erratic, she begins to suspect that several of Dennis’ multiple personalities, are gradually taking over and forcing him, the personality in charge, to do things he doesn’t want to do. As time goes by, Dennis keeps informing the girls, and Dr. Fletcher, that there is a 24th personality, one that hasn’t shown himself yet but when he arrives, according to Dennis, all of mankind will come to an end, and it will start with the three girls. With time running out, Karen makes her way to Dennis’ abode, where she tries to reason with him before the monster inside of him, breaks free.
James McAvoy gives an astounding performance, one filled with multiple layers of menace, fear, and instability, which change in an instant to that of childlike demeanor, to maternal etiquette, depending on whichever personality is present. His performance, and his alone, is the film’s saving grace, although Betty Buckley and Anya Taylor-Joy are excellent in their respective roles. While the ending of the movie does have Shyamalan’s trademark twist, thankfully, the film is not solely reliant on it. “Split” is Shyamalan’s first movie in years that I would not consider a fiasco, and I put that down to the fact that he focuses more on the performances, instead of trying to deliver yet another shocking ending. The mood constantly changes, juxtaposed with McAvoy’s perpetual personality transformations and this helps heighten the film’s overall, unsettling ambiance. While “Split” will not be to everyone’s liking, for those brave enough to take another chance on Shyamalan, they might just find themselves pleasantly surprised.
In theaters Friday, January 20th
Check out Irish Film Critic for more exciting news, reviews, and giveaways.