Me, Myself & I-Scream.
Split is the latest from infamous director M. Night Shyamalan, who was really good in the late 90s/early 00s, then flopped gloriously on his face throughout the 2000s, with a string of awful movies including The Happening, The Last Airbender and, oh God, After Earth. It follows the disturbing life of Kevin, who has 23 different personalities, as he kidnaps three “impure” girls to be sacrificed to his 24th, or The Beast. As well as a fair bit of hype (the cinema was packed with dickheads who didn’t know what they got themselves into), the film also amounted quite a bit of controversy due to its themes of mental health. I, personally, have been riding the aforementioned hype train for this flick ever since I saw the first trailer, which peaked my interest (my initial reaction here) thanks to its ominous and interesting premise, so I was excited to see if this film had just as much personality as its main character(s).
The biggest focal point of Split is obviously James McAvoy’s lead performance, which was as bewildering as it was strangely captivating. As I said in July, McAvoy has a lot on his plate with this character and, for the most part, he handles it pretty well, I gotta say. The four main personalities we see on screen, Barry, Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig, are each played differently and, as a feat alone, I can’t fault McAvoy for taking it and flippin’ running with it. However, these “characters”, while all played pretty well, aren’t necessarily necessary. Dennis is the film’s main antagonist, with him being the evil one that… eurgh… is a bit paedoey, I think? We’ll get to that later. Hedwig, who is a “child”, is a bit strange and gives the film a bit of humour, which I’m not sure I’m for. Adding to this strange tone, Patricia is probably the most unnecessary “personality”, seeming more like an excuse for McAvoy to wear a dress than any sort of useful plot device.
This leads me to my main problem with the film; the tone. Specifically, the weird, topsy-turvy tone that can’t decide whether it wants to be a horror, thriller, dark comedy or abuse PSA. At one point, we have the ominous atmosphere, the suspense, the “don’t go down there honey”, that kind of thing. Then, we have James McAvoy, in an Adidas tracksuit, dancing, like a nine-year-old, to Kanye West. Seriously, I don’t think it was just characters in this film that were having an identity crisis.
SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH. MAN, I HAVEN’T SAID THAT IN A WHILE, I’VE BEEN PRETTY GOOD, OH WELL.
Also, an extra theme that I could’ve done without, that I touched on earlier, is that of child abuse. So. Much. Child abuse. While I think Kevin’s backstory is a fine, if slightly overdone, way of explaining his MESSED UP BIZNIZ, the fact that the abuse of the protagonist proves to be a major plot point isn’t great. Moreover, the context and the way it’s presented, especially, came off to me as simply distasteful, not in a mocking way, more in a clumsy way.
OH DAMN, NO MORE SPOILERS NOW, LADS.
As well as this, I wasn’t a fan of how Shyamalan, who, as per, wrote the film as well as directed it, almost sexualised the kidnapping of these girls to such an extent that 2/3 of the protanganists were only partially clothed by the end of the film and for such varied and totally not thin and perverted reasons as, “Oh, your sweater’s dirty, better take it off!” and “Oh, your skirt’s dirty, better take it off!”. I know what you’re thinking, “But, Milo, dear, sweet, darling Milo, there are plenty of great horror films with plenty of skin on show, what differentiates that from this?”, the difference is that, whereas Friday The 13th, for example, contains a fair bit of the sex, it plays a part in the film’s plot, so it never seems pointless. However, here, watching a teenager strip off for a bald schizo is just as uncomfortable as I made that sentence sound.
Regardless of those very real criticisms, the more sordid side of Split is less prevalent than I might’ve made it seem. For the most part, the film is just a very suspenseful and, at points, disturbing ride. In particular, the three protagonists, especially Anya Taylor-Joy, all brought a sense of vulnerability that made McAvoy’s character seem all the more menacing. A very notable feature of the flick is it’s ability, an ability that Shyamalan showed in films like The Sixth Sense, to build an aura of dread in a scene and then for it to just explode, something that I love in a horror movie, rather than an overrealiance on jump scares and gore. In all honesty, M. Night Shyamalan, considering his string of truly terrible movies, has made a stunning comeback with this.
Overall, M. Night Shyamalan’s comeback feature Split is a comeback feature of the highest degree, reigniting my, and a lot of other moviegoers, interest in the director thanks to its extremely effective method of building up suspense to an absolute fever pitch and just a really creepy premise. Bringing the creepy is James McAvoy’s great performance, with a mind-boggling amount of “getting-into-the-role” being shown there. However, there were a few unnecessary characters, or “personalities”, and some major issues with the tone and themes of the film that really put me off at points.
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations