Split Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s Latest Horror Thriller
We need to talk about Kevin. No, I don’t mean the 2011 thriller starring Tilda Swinton, I’m referring to Kevin Crumb, the unwitting protagonist of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest horror thriller Split. Kevin suffers from dissociative identity disorder a rare psychological condition that manifests itself in the form of 23 different personalities that reside within Kevin’s psyche. James McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse) plays Kevin, and his different personalities, too perfection managing to work around a less-than-perfect script to give a brilliant performance.
Split could verily easily be an emotive character piece about a person with dissociative identity disorder and their struggle to live an ordinary life but this being a horror film and one written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan no less there is always something more sinister afoot. It turns out that some of Kevin’s personalities believe in something called “The Beast” a creature that represents the next stage in human evolution.
Their belief in “The Beast” leads them to kidnap a group of young girls. Troubled teenager Casey, played by Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), is accidentally brought along for the ride. What follows is a desperate attempt by the girls to escape while trying to make sense of what is going on. They’re told that they’ve been brought there for a purpose, but what purpose? And will they make it out alive by the end of it?
We don’t learn much about what exactly “The Beast” is for quite some time, we spend much of our time with Kevin and his multiple personalities as the girls desperately try to escape. While there have been many “locked in a room” horror films as of late (10 Cloverfield Lane and Green Room immediately come to mind) Split lacks the sense of claustrophobic dread of its peers. Instead Split focuses on Kevin and his multiple personalities as the real source of horror.
James McAvoy is incredible as Kevin and his multiple personalities. Each personality feels like a different character and McAvoy plays them all with such skill. While early on in the film he relies on regular costume changes to signify which of Kevin’s personalities (we only get to see a handful of the 23 different personalities in this film) he is playing by the end he no longer relies on that instead allowing his acting to speak for itself.
Not to be outdone by her co-star Anya Taylor-Joy excels in her role as Casey as well. She plays the young troubled girl with real authenticity. There are several flashbacks to her childhood however which attempt to flesh out her character but frankly feel like they were tacked on in post-production. They come at odd times and offer very little to the overall story.
Where Split falls down is the script. While James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy do their best with what they’re given they can’t work around the fact that the script just isn’t that great. There is far too much exposition, which is understandable given that Shyamalan is trying to introduce a complex topic, but it could have been handled in a much more subtle way.
Split would of worked excellently as a psychological thriller about a man with multiple personalities kidnapping a group of young girls for some sinister purpose but Split is about so much more than that. As the film progresses we learn that Kevin’s disorder might not just effect him psychologically but physiologically as well. This introduces a new element to the film which frankly isn’t needed and detracts from the real horror facing the girls.
The ending is probably the weakest part of the entire film. After a brief confrontation with Kevin that leaves Casey locked in a cell with no where else to go and no hope of escape, Kevin simply leaves and disappears in to the night. We later learn that this was done to help set up a future sequel but it feels incredibly anti-climactic.
Split is a great return to form for Shyamalan who has had some less than stellar films as of late. While not perfect by any stretch of the imagination it is a fun ride. There is a lot of potential going forward and I’m excited to see where Shyamalan goes next.