SPLIT (USA/15A/117mins)
Directed by M. Night Shymalan. Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Betty Buckley.
THE PLOT: After Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) goes for a meal with some of her classmates, she accepts a lift home from one of their parents. As Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) are engrossed in their phones in the backseat of the car, it is only Casey who notices that the man who gets into the driver’s seat is not her friend’s father. When the three awake in a locked room, they realise they have been taken hostage, but not by one person; it seems as though there are many personalities living inside one man’s body.
THE VERDICT: ‘Split’ feels like a companion piece to ‘Unbreakable’ in some ways, M. Night Shymalan’s 2000 thriller, in that this is a film that focuses on the physical aspects of one person, and whether the power of suggestion and belief is enough to change someone physically. While there may be merit to this idea, the fact that ‘Split’ is a film about a man struggling with multiple personalities, but the film focuses on the physical, is problematic from the beginning.
The cast of ‘Split’ do well in their roles, Anya Taylor-Joy makes Casey the heart of the film, and the more we learn about her, the more we empathise with this seemingly vulnerable character. Jessica Sula and Haley Lu Richardson have less to do, but they hold their own on screen, and Betty Buckley makes Dr. Fletcher an engrossing character, as she struggles to get through to the young man in her care. James McAvoy plays every other character in the film, to illustrate the fact that he is a man living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. McAvoy does well with most of the characters, making them feel fully fleshed out and real, and any disservice he manages is the fault of the script, and not the man who plays a 9 year old, a prissy and controlling woman, a flamboyant fashion designer and someone a lot more sinister.
M. Night Shymalan’s screenplay is divided into three parts; the kidnap drama, the sessions that McAvoy has with his therapist Dr Fletcher, and flashbacks to when Casey went hunting with her father and uncle. The flashbacks help to round Casey out, and allow the audience to understand why she responds differently to her situation than the other girls she is captured with, while there are times when the kidnap drama is interesting and engaging, especially when interspersed with a seemingly well-balanced character going to therapy. It is in the second and third acts of the film that everything begins to fall apart; the depiction of mental health – and the manifestation of the idea that your thoughts influence your body – is a troubling one, and never truly sits well with the rest of the film. The idea of watching a man struggle with multiple personalities on screen has never truly been done so explicitly before, and watching Casey react to them is an interesting one, but Shymalan treats the character’s mental health issues like a path to superheroism – much like Unbreakable – rather than something that exists within the world that we know.
As director, Shymalan tries to make ‘Split’ a good old fashioned thriller, but the world of the film does not feel heightened enough to support a character like the one – ones!? – that McAvoy plays. The portrayal of mental health issues in ‘Split’ are problematic from the start, and they only get worse as Shymalan tries to make his main character believable. The performances are strong in the film, but the pacing struggles, ‘Split’ looks great, but it is hard to shake the feeling that the film is silly, and potentially dangerous.
In all, ‘Split’ is a well-acted, well-shot but decidedly silly and problematic film. Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy shine, but ‘Split’ is troubling in its depiction of mental health issues, and the film is simply too long for questions not to arise.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    After years making misguided films that were a waste of his considerable talent, M. Night Shyamalan showed signs of a comeback with The Visit, an effectively creepy chiller. The Visit was no fluke though. Re-teaming once again with resourceful, on-the-money producer Jason Blum, Shyamalan has earned full credit for a comeback with Split.

    Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) are abducted by an unknown man (James McAvoy) when he steps into the driving seat of their car. They wake up in an underground room, locked in and with no visible way out. It’s at this point that they discover that their abductor is not what he seems. His behaviour varies from hour-to-hour, day-to-day. He has Dissociative Identity Disorder and assumes various personalities – 23 in fact. This is a fact that his psychologist Karen (Betty Buckley) is aware of and intends to use for her own studies. While some of the personalities are harmless, others are more sinister. But they will have to manipulate each personality to escape before it’s too late. There’s a 24th personality emerging – a far more dangerous one known as the beast…

    Shyamalan is clearly on a roll here, getting back to his earlier, better films (make sure to stay to the end for a sly reference to this). His script is very sharp, teasing out the multiple personalities that exist in this man’s mind and body. Wisely, Shyamalan has decided not to portray all 24 personalities. Now, that would be mind-bending. Instead, he’s concentrated on eight which each have their own distinctive personality traits. To say anymore would be to reveal the film’s many twists and turns – it’s best to discover each personality for yourself and how they interact with the three girls subjected to them. Escaping proves harder than it looks.

    Although Joaquin Phoenix was originally considered, it would appear to be a blessing that he stepped aside for McAvoy to take the lead role instead. Although Phoenix is a fine actor, the role requires a multi-layered chameleon to channel these personalities successfully. This kind of role is a gift to an actor and there’s always been a touch of the chameleonic Gary Oldman to McAvoy. He’s one of those actors you can’t quite figure out at times, whether he means to save a character or kill him/her. It’s a visceral performance that strikingly switches around the different personalities in one scene. Talented Taylor-Joy and old-timer Buckley provide strong support too.

    Split has attracted criticism from some quarters (e.g. the RTE Guide) for linking Dissociative Identity Disorder to violent behaviour. This is a film, a work of fiction and not reality. Some poetic licence is allowable for Shyamalan here, to up the tension and latent threat. If anything, you’ll learn more about the disorder here than in, say, Dorothy Mills. Split is a cracker of a horror/thriller that slowly gets under your skin and makes a home there. Just the way the audience likes it, Mr Shyamalan. ****

  • Clive Bower

    Not too sure I want to see this now – thanks guys