“Split” is terrifying
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Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie has 28 major characters. The catch? 24 of them are all played by the same actor. “Split” tells the story of Kevin (James McAvoy), a man with 23 distinct personalities. Some of them are anticipating the emergence of a 24th, and to prepare for its arrival, one of them kidnaps three teenage girls.
“Split”’s plot, although serviceable, definitely leaves something to be desired. It falls back on many classic horror movie tropes, and characters make unrealistically poor and downright idiotic decisions. In fairness to Shyamalan, the plot does not seem to have been a major concern; this is definitely a movie that favors dialogue and performances over a complex storyline. “Split” tells two stories: the teenage girls trying to escape from Kevin, and the history of their de-facto leader, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). The escape story takes up the majority of the movie’s runtime, but in many ways, Casey’s story is more horrific because it is more realistic.
The character interactions are a big part of what makes this movie work. Each of Kevin’s personalities is totally different, and it is genuinely entertaining to watch how he reacts to the same situations as, essentially, different people. Englishwoman Ms. Patricia, OCD-driven Dennis, 9-year-old Hedwig and flamboyant fashion designer Barry (just to name a few) all provide unique perspectives on the same situation. The interactions between the girls are interesting; watching them slowly figure out that Kevin has Dissociative Identity Disorder is fascinating, as is watching them react to the different personalities. Kevin’s visitations with his psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) are also compelling.
Every performance in “Split” is good, with one exception: James McAvoy’s portrayal of Kevin and his different personalities is among the most complex acting ever brought to screen. He essentially plays eight different characters (not every personality makes it onscreen) with their own ticks, expressions, voices and the like. McAvoy does something here that few actors could, giving a performance that will no doubt be remembered for years to come. The whole movie is worth watching for him alone.
Although “Split” is a horror movie, it benefits from having a PG-13 instead of R rating, a rarity for the genre. It is not particularly violent, but this means that whenever violence is shown, it is genuinely shocking. Making this a psychological thriller instead of a slasher movie was a smart move; nothing here feels campy, which it easily could have in the wrong hands.
There has been some controversy surrounding this movie’s portrayal of the mentally ill. I would reccomend watching the movie before making any judgements. “Split” handles the issue with delicacy. It is primarily addressed during Kevin’s interactions with Dr. Fletcher and is treated in an open and sensitive manner.
“Split” is one of the best horror movies released in a long time. The plot is average, but McAvoy’s acting more than makes up for it. If you’re looking for two hours of entertainment, you could do much worse.