Split : A Passable Comeback by M Night Shyamalan
Movie Review by Sreedevi Jayarajan (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
M. Night Shyamalan, the wunderkind once hailed as the next Spielberg of Hollywood, made a comeback recently with his thriller Split. The movie is a decent attempt at salvaging Shyamalan’s tainted reputation, a result of his recent slew of run-off-the-mill flicks which include The Last Airbender, The Village, and The Visit.
Split is a psycho-thriller that draws its plot from the Dissociative Identity Disorder, commonly known as split personality.
The story begins with the abduction of three girls by a man named Dennis, played by the talented James McAvoy. We later discover that Dennis is, in fact, Kevin suffering from the split personality disorder; he houses 24 different personalities within him. His alternate personalities are varied in range, the most sinister of them being Patricia, a middle-aged woman, and Dennis, the abductor. Other personalities include Barry – a gay fashion loving stereotype, and Hedwig – a lisping nine-year-old. Shyamalan chooses to focus on only a few of the personalities to avoid confusion. Kevin visits his therapist Dr. Fletcher, played by the lovely Betty Buckley. Dr. Fletcher’s attempts to predict Kevin and his group’s (the alternate personalities) moves, thereby making the plot clear (by providing information about DID) to the audience.
Out of the three abductees, the camera focuses most on Casey – played by Anya Taylor-Joy – marking her out as an important character. The other two abductees are frantic as well as desperate to get out, and Casey attempts to calm them down, warning them to be cautious while dealing with Dennis. We learn that Casey’s sharp survival instincts come from a hunting trip she took with her dad and her uncle as a child. This thread, told through Casey’s flashbacks, reveals itself to be rather chilling as the plot unfolds.
The movie is different in that it has a surprising lack of blood and gore for a thriller. Shyamalan’s directorial genius enables him to build suspense with deft camera angles alone. The film cleverly avoids showing the particular element that builds suspense, keeping the audience in constant anticipation. Another change, perhaps intentional, is the film’s breaking from the usual treatment of the “female victim” meted out in most horror flicks.
McAvoy, with his exceptional acting talent, not only meets the demands of the role but proceeds to hit the ball straight out of the park. He utilizes his sensitivity and soft features to project evil, a factor crucial to the edge-of-your-seat experience that the film offers. McAvoy’s transition from Barry to Patricia to the lisping Hedwig is flawless. In fact, in one particular sequence, he performs the transition within the space of a scene. Taylor-Joy as Casey nails the spooky part. Her big black eyes are definitely instrumental in upping the spook factor of the film. If only her unique looks were complimented with great acting capabilities, she would have bought her ticket to superstardom. However, she still has a long way to go in terms of acting
While McAvoy’s acting helps create a thriller out of the Dissociative Identity Disorder, the depiction of the illness itself is a far cry from reality. This inaccuracy, however, can be excused for the sake of the storyline. On the other hand, what definitely cannot be excused is the use of child abuse to further the film’s plot. Childhood sexual abuse, as mentioned earlier, is an instrumental part of film’s storyline. In fact, it furthers the film’s agenda. However, selecting such a sensitive subject for two hours of cringe and popcorn entertainment is a morally questionable move. Added to this are the specific scenes depicting childhood trauma and abuse; watching them could prove to be an unpleasant experience for some. For me, this is what makes the movie a bit of a desperate attempt by Shyamalan to resurrect his fading acclaim as a filmmaker.
A big revelation cleverly hidden within the plot is brought to light at the end of the film, hinting at a sequel of Split combined with an earlier hit film by Shyamalan. A sequel to this film might be an exciting proposition for some. But do we really want to see a sequel to Split? I’ll leave that for you to answer.