Split: A Thriller That Put M. Night Back On Top

Split is coming to DVD and you should see it.

split2Buried in that beginning of year series of film releases when most of us avoid going to the movies as we recover from the post holiday madness, a special little film was released: Split.

While this movie was box office hit for the season $270 million box-office take for a reported $9 million budget, the fact is that compared to a lot of blockbusters (even ones with smaller profit margins) this movie wasn’t seen by a lot of people.

Possibly that’s because a lot of people saw the name M. Night Shyamalan and thought that like so many of his recent works this was just not going to cut it as a movie.  Maybe the story didn’t interest them that much. Maybe they thought that James McAvoy wouldn’t be able to cut it having to pull off several independent personalities in a single film.

Well…if those were your reasons for not seeing this, you’re wrong.

As to M. Night not being able to cut it anymore that simply isn’t the case. Shyamalan was a consistent director from the Sixth Sense all the way through Lady in the Water (although Signs, The Village, and Lady in the Water all suffered from people looking too much for a twist ending and missing the superb themes of his work).  And we all admit that from The Happening through After Earth, we have no idea what the hell was going on.  Perhaps, as with Joss Whedon, good directors of small projects just aren’t as good on massive budget productions.  But whatever the reason for those dark years, Shyamalan came back to form with the The Visit  a couple years which showed that once again he could turn an overdone genre and breathe some fresh life into it.

And The Visit was really only a warm up for the stellar work that is Split.split

The story of three girls who have been kidnapped by a man who suffers from multiple personality disorder played by James McAvoy, collectively known as the Hoard.  Three of the personalities of this afflicted man are working in tandem because they believe that there is a hidden personality with McAvoy’s character known only as the Beast.   These three plan to offer the three kidnapped girls as a sacrifice for the cannibalistic power that they revere in the Beast. As the moment of this murder approaches the film focuses on two main views. One view is about McAvoy’s character, mainly seen through the eyes of his psychiatrist who is fascinated by his condition and the traumatic childhood that created the split in his mind.  The other main line of the story follows one of the girls kidnapped by the Hoard, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) who has her own history of suffering.

I’m not going to go into spoilers until later in this article but the these two lines deal with the central theme of the story.  The theme of how the mind deals with stress and has it is either broken by it, or hopefully in the case of Casey, strengthened by it.  The Beast which does eventually show up has the twisted idea that only those who suffer are worthy to live, because suffering creates strength.  And in the case of Casey this may be the case (the ending is a little open on this point, but there is hope in the promised third part to this trilogy—oh you didn’t know this was the second part of a trilogy, I’ll get to that in a minute).  But in the case of our villain he thinks the pain that broke him is what made him stronger, and like many a villain in history and literature he feels that if he has suffered then everyone should suffer as well.  Split makes it clear that it is not the suffering, as everyone suffers to one degree or another in life, but how we choose to deal with it.  In the case of the Hoard they seek to try and justify that they didn’t deal well with suffering and it broke them.

One of the best parts of about this film is the way McAvoy goes from one character to the next flawlessly.   Of the main personalities he displays there is the OCD sufferer Dennis, the almost motherly Patricia, and the childlike Hedwig.  Each one is an entirely different character with completely developed mannerism, patterns of speech and behaviors.  Some actors could have ruined it by letting certain ticks or traits go from character to the next, hurting the image of each personality being a separate one, but McAvoy avoids all the pitfalls that such a performance might usually come with.

And while Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personalities) is still not exactly clearly defined by modern psychiatry, this film covers a lot more of the scientific claims of the disorder (such as some personalities can have diabetes where others don’t) in a far more mature fashion than most movies…albeit then taking those ideas to the very edge of what could be humanly possible.

Now I will admit that this movie isn’t greatly improved by the big screen, which is why I held this review back for the DVD release, but you should still see it.

Now onto the spoilers…

The best part about this movie is that ends with the return of David Dunn, the Bruce Willis character from Unbreakable, learning about the existence of the Hoard.  This sets a somewhat realistic superhero in Dunn and a somewhat realistic supervillain in the Hoard on a collision course that will pit mirrored titles of Unbreakable and Split against one another.  It is a wonderful turn at the end that transforms the movie from merely an excellent thriller to the second act that will pit two very broken people against one another.

I look forward to the final chapter of this story and hope it comes soon…and the fastest way to get it is if everyone goes and gives this move a chance.

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Categorised in: Entertainment, Movies

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