“The damaged are the more evolved”
Written and Directed by: M. Knight Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Betty Buckley
The Josh chop: For a long time I’ve been quite a fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s films. I remember sitting in the movie theater trying to figure out the plot twist for The Village and at the end being really surprised. As Shyamalan’s career took its path to Lady in the Water and The Happening followed by The Last Airbender my love for his work diminished. Lady in the Water was fun but felt like a story told around a campfire and was being made up as it was told. The Happening was reminiscent of a long drawn out “Twilight Zone” story, but worse. Nevertheless I was hopeful for Split, since I still, to this day love The Village. I’ve skipped out on the last few films Shyamalan has produced simply because I didn’t want to be disappointed. I left my feelings about previous films at the door to review Split.
It’s Claire Benoit’s (Richardson) birthday party and she has invited everyone in her class to attend. She even invites the quiet odd girl Casey (Taylor-Joy) who’s always causing trouble resulting in getting detention. While Claire and her bestie Marcia (Sula) wait for Casey’s ride to get there, we learn that Claire doesn’t actually like Casey all that much. She feels sorry for her since she invited everyone else in her class to come to her party. Casey’s ride isn’t coming, the car has broken down so Claire’s dad offers to drive her home. The walk to the car is depressing to Casey as the other girls get in the car joyfully talking about presents and the latest crazy YouTube video.
Claire’s dad puts the presents in the trunk while the girls pile in. While they wait, Casey stares catatonically out the window. Suddenly a strange man (McAvoy) appears in the driver seat. Before they can even scream for help, he sprays them with something and they are all unconscious. They all wake up in a room together with a locked door. The room is plain and kind of creepy. Like one you’d see in a Hostel film. We see an immaculate white bathroom with a pretty flower in a vase and Claire and Marcia are huddled together slightly freaking out.
This scene kind of got me. It felt a bit unbelievable by the dialog. Although the girls must surely be frightened, they seemed more puzzled by the situation. Almost like if someone slipped and fell and woke up and didn’t know what happened. But they did realize that they were kidnapped, which is the confusing part to me. Girls of this age would almost certainly be very frantic. We don’t see that.
Claire and Marcia decide that they need to team together to overpower their kidnapper. One problem though, Casey doesn’t want to help. She doesn’t think they can over power this man.
Claire starts arguing with Casey saying she always does this and Marcia tries to convince Casey nicely. Suddenly the man comes in and takes Marcia. She is struggling and Casey pulls her close and whispers “Pee on yourself.” This is a tactic to prevent someone about to rape you. Marcia gets pulled out the door and the door slams shut. Shortly after Marcia is returned sobbing and the man in disgust slams the door shut.
Time passes and the girls peer through the crack in the door after hearing what sounds like a woman’s voice. We hear the man and a woman and someone else arguing about the girls. We see a woman in a long skirt and high heels. The girls hear bits and pieces of the conversation, but it sounds like she is upset that he put the girls in this locked room.
They begin to scream for help from her and she walks over to the door and opens it. The girls step back completely mortified to see that the help they desperately called for is in fact the man who kidnapped them. He’s dressed as a woman and has the mannerisms of a completely different person, a woman. “She” says not to worry that she will make sure everything is ok before she closes the door and leaves.
This keeps happening as the girls try to figure out why they are in the room to begin with. The door opens, the man is there but he’s someone else. We come to find out that this man has multiple personalities, “Split personality disorder.” It’s both fascinating and disturbing. Each personality is different. Each have their own mannerisms, speech, body language, mental capacity.
It’s hard to explain this film without getting too much into the plot and what happens. The story really keeps you focused, because something new is discovered in almost each scene. We learn back stories from Casey. We learn that this man (known as multiple people) sees a psychiatrist (Buckley), and she is helping him live a normal life. We learn that he has 23 personalities and the 24th, most dangerous one is about to emerge.
The film discovers new things on and on throughout even until the very end. And of course, there is a twist but not what you’d think. Which was interesting, but the folks sitting next to me in the theater had no idea what the twist meant until I explained.
If you’re a huge fan of Shyamalan then you’ll enjoy this film. This may even get you to like his films yet again, you may be puzzled by the ending. All in all I thought the film was ok. There were times when I felt like the acting was very cardboard which may be due to the dialogue written for it. It’s not too uncommon in other Shyamalan films to have this awkwardness from the dialogue in a scene. I couldn’t decide if the acting was bad or if it was the dialog, but as the film progressed I wasn’t hung up on it.
McAvoy does a great job of changing characters easily and creates a feeling that each character is completely different. I enjoyed his work in the film, but felt that it really could have been done by any great character actor. I could have easily seen Jim Carrey in the role, to be honest. Not because the film is funny, in fact humor rarely came up. The split personalities displayed reminded me of the dozens of characters Carrey has played over the years.
I hope to see more from Shyamalan in the future. This film didn’t ruin my feelings for him like The Happening did, but it wasn’t great like his earlier films like The Sixth Sense. And if you aren’t a grouchy film critic you may actually enjoy this film a lot.