Published on January 24th, 2017 | by Brando Quiring0
M Night Shyamalan went from being master of the twist to master of the garbage pile. Does his new movie, Split restore him to glory?
Oh, M. Night, it seems you have finally turned the corner following the absolute tragedies that were Avatar: The Last Airbender and After Earth, and have returned to making some interesting movies. Split is a taught thriller, where three girls are taken prisoner by a man named Kevin, who lives with the controversial mental illness DID or Dissociative Identity Disorder, which is a fancy way of saying that he has multiple personalities. While that might sound like just another typical claustrophobic horror romp, this picture is nuanced enough that it keeps you guessing until the very end, and exciting enough that you never become bored with the struggle of the girls as they try to escape the clutches of an increasingly unstable set of personalities.
The movie opens at a high school girl’s birthday party, because all 18-year-old girls have birthday parties at the mall that are hosted by their parents that they invite their entire art class to. The silly set up allows us to meet the birthday girl: a rich, blonde, self-assured young lady named Dead Meat Number 1, and her sort-of-slutty-but-not-really friend: Dead Meat Number 2. We are also introduced to our survivor girl: a troubled, possibly abused girl, named Casey who was only invited to the party out of pity, because she’s nothing but trouble around the school but Dead Meat Number 1 needed to have the whole class to maximize her gift count.
Dead Meat Number 1’s dad insists on giving Casey a ride home along with Dead Meat Number 2, and they are promptly abducted by Dennis, an OCD-riddled germophobe who has a love for watching young girls dance with no clothes on He takes them to an underground bunker where he tries to have Dead Meat Number 2 put on a bit of show. When that fails, he is berated by Patricia, a matriarch-type character who seems to be the boss of the kidnap gang (called The Horde), who have gathered these girls to become “sacred food” for another personality who is coming to reign down terror, all around Philadelphia.
Casey’s attempts to make some of the ‘nice’ personalities come to her side and aid in her escape are very well done, and their impact on the many characters embodied by James McAvoy’s Kevin really increase the tension as we truly do want the mildly likable Casey to escape, and watching the personalities warm to her gives us hope and keeps everything moving a good pace. In spite of there only being one setting outside of the basement, the movie feels large and sprawling as the constant tonal shifts brought on by Kevin’s ever changing and devolving personas keeps every scene feeling very fresh, and unlike any other “hot chick trapped in a basement with a maniac” movie you may have seen in a while.
In spite of the sort of trite beginnings, the flick does pick up from here as more of Kevin’s personalities begin to emerge and interact with the girls, as they attempt to escape. Some of the personalities begin trying to call for help from the psychiatrist, who has been treating Kevin for years and who is big believer in DID as a psychological condition. There are twists and turns as we realize that there may be more going on with Kevin than is explainable through mere psychology and the limits of being human. Plus, it is an M. Night movie so we know there will be some kind of twist coming somewhere.
Now I won’t ruin the twist for you, but it is something that I didn’t see coming and it also hardly changed the story at all, but in fact set up the next story! It was almost universe building in a way and it sets up a second movie that I think, would really be great fun to watch. Which is both a plus and a minus for the show as a whole, because while it was very well done and fun to watch and didn’t smack of a lot of self-important bullshit, it was still mildly formulaic and with the twist being sort of outside the scope of the story, it made the ending a little more predictable, not less exciting, but certainly more predictable. Dead Meat 1 and 2 wind up dead and survivor girl survives after an exciting showdown with Kevin that was well executed and pretty cool, all leading to a satisfactory horror movie conclusion.
The real coming-out-of-left-field twist here was that M. Night has successfully thrilled me with two movies in a row (the other being The Visit), and has set up another story I am really pumped to check out, and there was hardly any heavy-handed philosophical nonsense to get in the way of what was an above average, sequel baiting, horror/thriller movie. What a twist!
I give this 5 “mental illness induced biochemical body changes” out of 7.