Split (2016)

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“The broken are the more evolved.”

With the movie Splitwriter/director M. Night Shyamalan’s ambition tends to exceed his grasp, but that doesn’t mean the blind grabs for thrills are altogether out of reach. That mostly applies to the film’s opening act, where it establishes a puzzling and uncomfortable sense of unknown dread before overstepping its bounds with a spiritual spin. In that regard, Split lives up to its title, and will certainly divide audiences.

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James McAvoy stars as Kevin, a troubled and a bit of a tragic man experiencing (DID) Disassociative Identity Disorder. Inside his mind live 23 separate, entirely unique personalities, with a handful playing center stage. Barry’s a neurotic New York artist. Hedwig is a 9 year old. Then there’s the religious pact between the stern Dennis and the solemn Patricia. Dennis is in charge of stalking the pretty prey, snatching the popular and care-free Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and her friend Marcia (Jessica Sula). But the outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, as great here as she was in The Witchis an unexpected passenger in the abduction, only in the car to hitch a ride home. The moment is chilling, radiating out absolute freezing fear. Split spins a fantasizing wheel to start, and while it stops in a questionable place, the journey’s intriguing nonetheless. 

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While the girls search for an exit, Barry makes visits with Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), one of the only believers of DID in the medical community. This is the most controversial aspect of Shyamalan’s film, notably called out for the simplicity of the trailer’s mental health depictions. Dr. Fletcher defends her patients with sympathy while others call them out as kooks. Whether it’s accurate or not, Split shies away from exploitation and aims for understanding. But then a kink is thrown into the picture; the personalities conspire to unlock Kevin’s true power, unleashing the sacred power of “The Beast.” There’s not enough symmetry to this story.

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I quite enjoyed Shyamalan’s last film The Visit. The twist is pertinent to the story, as well as surprising but never jarring to the point of drawing a line of demarcation between the mystery and the big reveal. He ditches this sophistication by the wayside here though, mixing themes of belief with practicality through clunky narrative callbacks. Shyamalan gets a fantastic performance from McAvoy, displays some remarkable shots plus carefully placed details, and shows a perceptive fascination for the saving graces of pain and failure. Overall, Split is shaken and not stirred, missing the kind of credible and balanced ending to enrich what came before.

“We don’t even know what this is yet.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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