The Movie Review: Split
Rating: 2 and 1/2 Stars
I had to use ScreenRant to bail me out of the ending of Split. I’m speaking specifically of the Bruce Willis ending, where for a moment I thought I was supposed to be making a 6th Sense connection.
The actual connection according to ScreenRant is that the ending of Split has to do with a Shyamalan movie I have not seen called Unbreakable. This little post credits scene didn’t take away from my overall perception of the film though, which I thought was well-done.
Until it became underwhelming.
Split, aside from the Unbreakable mumbo jumbo, is not a twist film. Rather, it is an exploration into the dynamics of the human personality. There’s no better way to explore the vast mysteries of the human mind through a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or in layman’s terms, multiple personalities. Shyamalan appeared to be taking a rather scholarly approach for most of the film until he threw his script against the wall and turned James McAvoy into a seething rabid animal. More on that in a minute.
Split begins with the a teenager’s birthday party. A dad with his daughter, Claire, and her friend Marcia, patiently wait for Casey to get picked up. Claire remarks upon how Casey is the outcast in school and how she’s always getting into trouble. When Casey says there was an accident, Claire’s father takes charge and says he’ll take her home. Before he can even get into the car, he’s attacked and the girl’s are kidnapped by our main character played by James McAvoy.
McAvoy’s body is considered Kevin, which was his given name, but Kevin contains 23 going on 24 distinct personalities in which McAvoy portrays 8 of them in the film. Of course the joint credit goes to the meticulous script of Shyamalan and the poise of McAvoy who is game for the task.
McAvoy’s personalities whilst disturbing to the kidnapped girls, are hilarious to watch as a viewer. McAvoy plays as Hedwig who acts as if he’s 9-years old, a fashion designer named Barry, and most notably a cunning feminine Patricia, and hard-nosed obsessive neat freak Dennis.
The film centers around the girls’ attempts to escape Dennis and Patricia which all fail. They end up being left in the hands of an older woman, Dr. Karen Fletcher, who plays as a therapist for the troubled Kevin. She senses something is up in her sessions with Barry as she realizes that Dennis is taking over Kevin’s body. The best jarring scenes of the film have McAvoy battle over which personality he is currently using.
Dennis and Patricia stage a coup of Kevin in preparation for the arrival of “The Beast”, a sort-of supernatural presence that feeds on the impure. The pure being those who have suffered. Pause.
Allow me to gripe for a moment. The definition of suffering appears to be pretty specific for The Beast. Everyone in life suffers, but The Beast is only concerned with one kind of suffering as we’ll discover later.
There are a number of flashbacks to a younger Casey that lead to her getting sexually and physically assaulted by her uncle. After Casey’s father dies of a heart attack, she is placed under the care of her uncle who we can only assume didn’t do a very good job as a father figure.
Some personalities of Kevin’s body attempted to fight back and warn Dr. Fletcher of The Beast, but by the time Fletcher discovers Dennis and Patricia’s true intent, it is too late and she is captured.
The film ramps up as The Beast returns and wipes out Dr. Fletcher, Claire, and Marcia. Fletcher reveals to Casey in a handwritten note that by saying Kevin’s real name he’ll have repressive memories from his childhood when he was abused. Casey does this, but only repels The Beast before being chased again.
Two shotgun blasts to the torso do nothing and Casey is dead to rights until The Beast sees Casey’s scars. The Beast ends his pursuit announcing that Casey is pure and exits…
While I found the ending particularly anti-climactic, I was wildly entertained by the portrayal of personalities from McAvoy and many of the disconcerting frames and camera angles to create some jarring scene composition. The premise is fantastic and entertaining, the story was written with care and preciseness, but Split suffers from not concluding with emphasis.
That emphasis could’ve been a holy shit twist moment (which was where my mind was), but it didn’t have to be. There’s a lot of avenues Split could’ve went down for its conclusion but I found it to be rather safe and uninspiring.
A lot of critics of The Usual Suspects stress that the first hour and a half of the film is lackluster and drones on. If that’s the case, I would regard Split as being the opposite. A strong exposition and build that’s weighed down by a flat climax and resolution.
While I may be down on Split for it’s abrupt ending, I find it important to mention another quality of the film-making that I could really appreciate. If you look through my catalog of film reviews, you would notice that I lack horror films. I’m not a fan of most horror films due to the heavy reliance on “gotcha” jump scares and shoddy storytelling. Split earns its horror genre title by putting more stock into elements like atmosphere and tension. The musical score reflects this aspect very well by setting the tone than being a cheap jump scare device.
As far as my theories prior the ending on what the ultimate twist was going to be, I expected McAvoy’s character to either not be real and be a creation of Casey, or it would be revealed that McAvoy was really Casey’s uncle or had something to do with him.