Split (Film Review)
By Shane Stefanchik
WARNING: HEAVY SPOILERS
Welcome back, M. Night. We’ve missed you.
Well, some of us have. Others doubted you’d ever have a return to the glory days. Some debate that The Visit was it, but I’d argue it was merely a precursor to this triumphant return. “Why all the fanfare? Surely there is just some ‘what a twist!’ moment in the movie.” You’d be half right. The twist doesn’t come until the very very end of the movie, but we’ll get to that.
Split tells the story of three teenagers, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula) trying to escape after being kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy). Technically trying to escape from two (three?) of his alters. Dennis, the neat freak; Patricia, the matriarch; and Hedwig the owl nine-year-old child. It’s like watching a super dark United States of Tara. Yes, Kevin has D.I.D. or dissociative identity disorder.
In a thrilling opening sequence, Kevin knocks out the father off-screen and gets into the car with ease. It takes a second for the phone-focused girls in the backseat to notice this stranger isn’t their dad, and when they finally do, he calmly sprays them in the face with some magic Chloroform. Just the girls in the backseat though. At this moment in the film, I was convinced that Casey was in on it and working with Kevin. Why wouldn’t he spray her too? She seemed way too calm, but that would be explained away later. If she would have been quicker about reaching for the handle (or you know, turning her head away) she might have gotten away.
Casey’s calmness upon waking up only added to my suspicion that she was in on it. I felt like she knew him, but no, she was just super chill. Getting molested by your uncle apparently has that effect. Flashback time! Over the course of the movie, we see her being trained to hunt by her loving father and loving uncle. “I know where this is going” you may think. Well, yes and no. The whole ‘hunting an animal’ thing does come into play near the end, but only loosely. Instead we see that her uncle has convinced her to “play animals” behind a rock in the woods. For a split second I really thought it wasn’t going to be what it was. At least I hoped it wasn’t…once again I was wrong. So we now know she has been abused throughout her childhood. Then the other shoe drops, as her loving father passes away from a heart attack and she has to live with said uncle. All of this is done to illustrate how broken she is, but how that helps to keep her level headed in a situation like this. Because what could be worse than what she went through?
McAvoy brilliantly plays each character with nuances that let you know who is in control of the body. Out of the 23 personalities in Kevin, two have taken control and have decided that the girls will be sacrifices for “The Beast”. Kevin’s (spot-on) therapist postulates it’s possible for people with D.I.D. to overcome body limitations and change brain and body chemistry, citing examples of people with D.I.D. that accomplished this very thing. The theory being that they can become something more than human. Patricia describes The Beast to the other alters as being able to climb on walls and having skin as unbreakable as a rhinoceros’s hide. It’s an interesting theory, but is it real?
I was impressed at some of the girls’ escape attempts throughout the movie: a hidden vent, tricking a nine-year-old alter, smashing a chair in Patricia’s back. Ultimately it got two of them dead, so whomp whomp to that. Impressive nonetheless for three teenage girls in a movie.
I was very excited when “The Beast” actually did show up. I personally love any sort of superhero movie. Take for instance one of Shyamalan’s earlier works, Unbreakable. It was ahead of its time. A grounded movie where the main character discovers no obvious limit to his strength and an ability to sense intentions from people by touching them. So to see Kevin become this creature, with increased speed, agility, and strength, pushing beyond the limits of a human…yeah I was cheering internally. Would this creature die at the hands of the shotgun-trained Casey? Nope. Does her training actually help her? Maybe. He basically took two shots at point blank range and was not super hurt (cool!). I was worried that when he legitimately started climbing on the walls that they would chicken out and it would be all in her head or something. Much to my delight, they went full Sci-Fi and it was real. He is able to do all the things they said he could.
In the end, the only reason Casey doesn’t get eaten like her two classmates is because The Beast sees the scars on her body and recognizes her heart as ‘pure’. “The broken are the more evolved” he claims. So because of all the trauma she’s been through, she survives. At this point The Beast leaves and goes on the run. The ending shot of Casey in the police car and the female police officer telling her she’ll be going back to her Uncle is a powerful one. The extended gaze here lets you ponder if she will go back and take matters into her own hands, or if she’ll tell the officer (who is starting to suspect something) about the abuse.
I say last shot, but I don’t mean last shot. At this point, assuming that was the end of the movie, I thought ‘I guess the twist was that he really did become the beast with unbreakable skin and spider climbing powers, neat!’ However after a quick cut to black we pick up in a diner…
Ok, here is the twist so major spoiler. Stop reading now if you want to see the movie. We see a news report that Kevin is on the loose with many personalities and has been given the nickname ‘The Horde’. A woman comments that it’s just like that guy in the wheelchair from 15 years ago that they gave a funny name to…
“Mr. Glass” replies none other than BRUCE FUCKING WILLIS. SURPRISE UNBREAKABLE SEQUEL. Ok not sequel, but it takes place in the same universe. How fun is that? It’s a solid movie on its own with great acting from James McAvoy, decent pacing, phenomenal cinematography thanks to Michael Gioulakis (It Follows), and an even script.
Should you see it? Verdict is: Yes!
I really hoped the therapist wasn’t going to die. (Although at least she died with a hug!)
No nudity, which is refreshing.
McAvoy was fantastic cycling through personalities, however no one will ever top Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black).
The other two girls were surprisingly well-collected during this whole kidnapping. Kudos.
I’ve started to incorporate Patricia’s little head nods and face crinkles into my everyday life. #NoShame