Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Betty Buckley
Split is thrilling from beginning to end, thanks to James McAvoy’s stellar portrayal of Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man who seems to struggle with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Directed by The Sixth Sense's M. Night Shamalan, the film only gets increasingly disturbing the further you get into it.
The film starts off with one of Crumb’s (McAvoy) evil personalities, Dennis, abducting three girls including Casey Cooke (Taylor-Joy). While he holds the girls captive in his home, they witness some of his 24 personalities, including a nine-year-old boy, Hedwig, who Casey tries to trick throughout in order to escape. Crumb’s 24th personality, that isn’t unleashed until the end, is described as some type of vicious animal and is referred to as the ‘beast’ by the rest of his personalities.
McAvoy is phenomenal in this role as he’s forced to play many different characters from scene to scene. He shifts between various accents and voices flawlessly and transitions between characters that speak, behave and dress differently.
One of McAvoy’s most memorable but somewhat uncomfortable scenes is when one personality, Hedwig, takes Casey to his bedroom where he keeps his Kanye West CDs. He plays electronic music and begins to vigorously dance along to it. The way McAvoy dances in this scene will haunt you for days as it is incredibly creepy and intense. Other scenes involving Hedwig are infantile but also disturbing, such as when he asks Casey if he can kiss her like a child would and then tells her she may be pregnant following the kiss.
The cinematography is not spectacular but it does the job to create a thrilling atmosphere; Split’s darkness is enough to give the viewers chills. It’s cold tones successfully set the right mood and helps add tension to the eerie scenes. Split’s camerawork is perfect for building suspense, as there are many long-shots at the end that show the transformation of Crumb’s ‘beast’ personality. The transformation makes viewers feel anxious in their anticipation to finally find out what this personality is like.
Taylor-Joy is impressive as a teenager who struggles with a troubling past. She certainly gives the best performance out of the three girls, who otherwise overact and exaggerate their lines. Taylor-Joy is able to emote terror without screaming or crying, even though she is the character who is most approached by Crumb's eccentric personalities.
While the film seems to vilify Dissociative Identity Disorder, there’s a twist at the end where — spoilers — the film reveals that McAvoy's character is not mentally ill but in possession of supernatural powers that account for the multiple personalities. It becomes something more than what’s shown in trailers, which is not surprising from director M. Night Shyamalan, who is famous for these types of endings.
Split perfectly suits the thriller genre; It’s suspenseful and exhilarating throughout. It doesn’t have scary instances that make you gasp, scream, or jump out of your seat, like horror films. While it is clearly a thriller, the content is as disturbing as horror film, if not more.
Although there have been many films with similar plots, Split still feels original in its desire to shock the viewer. There are no moments where you won’t be entertained.