Movie Reviews 372 – Split (2016)

M. Night Shyamalan has got his groove back.

The writer and director who delivered three genre gems (The Sixth Sense, Signs and what I consider his magnum opus, Unbreakable) between 1999 and 2002, soon faltered with some questionable films and then hit rock bottom in 2010 delivering the incomprehensibly godawful The Last Airbender (based on the animated Avatar television series). From that point on I pretty much dismissed the director and lost interest in whatever projects he had after that. Which explains how Split managed to miss my movie radar until now.

It was actually hearing that the movie Glass, a sequel to Unbreakable, was in production that managed to create a ‘blip’ reappear across my board. And it was while discussing Glass with a friend that I learned that not only did Shyamalan already make Split, itself a semi-sequel to Unbreakable, but that it was actually good.

The very next day I scoured the local online ads and not only found someone selling a DVD-BR combo, but it was only $5 and on my commute home. A few emails and a slight detour later I had the film in my hands and was ready to give it a spin.

The story Kevin Crumb, a man (James McAvoy) with a multi personality disorder encapsulating 23 distinct personalities can be captivating enough, but in this case one is a psychotic killer who captures three young women and holds them in a bunker. All the while he is having sessions with a world renowned psychiatrist (Betty Buckley) who posits that Kevin and a few others like him do not have run-of-the-mill mental health issues but in fact suffer from a newly discovered form she terms Dissociative ID Disorder (DID). Her controversial claim is that DID patients not only alter their persona as they hop from one to another inner personalities, but that the changes can also include physiological changes.

The captives, led by a prior victim of abuse and herself and outcast herself even before the kidnaping (Anya Taylor-Joy) quickly realize that they are dealing with more than one identity and in dealing with each separately try to trick a weaker ‘young boy’ into aiding with their escape. But ‘Kevin’ soon has the girls separated in different areas of the hideout just as his psychiatrist pays an unannounced visit to confirm her darkest fears.

This film is rife with some of Shyamalan’s trademark filming devices. We begin almost the moment the girls are captured but the off camera discussions only add mystery to what is the actual situation the girls are facing. Something ain’t right, but what? We slowly put the pieces together until the final reveal of the real extent of the disorder.

McAvoy is superb, deftly switching personas on the fly, seemingly with ease, and nailing each one. While we don’t get to appreciate each of the reputed identities, the half dozen or so we ‘meet’ are richly defined and interesting all on their own. Taylor-Joy’s character Casey is also multi-facetted in her own way, and leverages her dark past to take charge of her present situation. Shyamalan makes his customary ‘hitchcockian’ appearance in the film, not in a mere cameo but actually playing a small role.

The film, appropriately enough, ends with a teaser for Glass with both Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson sitting in a diner. Rumour has it that Glass will cap the trilogy in a story that blends the cast of Split with the original Unbreakable. It should be released in about a month (projected opening of 19 January) but I can barely wait.

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