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article imageReview: ‘Split’ is an invigorating thriller that restores Shyamalan’s rep Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 22, 2017 in Entertainment
‘Split’ is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest picture, which returns to his low-budget roots and is even more enhanced by the completely unexpected twist at the end.
If there’s one thing that can be said about writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, it’s that he has interesting ideas. Not all of those concepts have translated into good films, but there have been some clear winners within the dozen titles listed on his IMDB page. He’s spent his 25-year career trying to keep audiences on their toes, while also telling engrossing stories. His penchant for a final twist has become a signature and therefore the burden falls on him to truly make it unexpected. It’s been nearly two decades since he delivered one as shocking as the final reveal in Split, which has been almost as long in the making.
Kevin (James McAvoy) has dissociative identity disorder (DID, formerly multiple personality disorder). His doctor, Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), has documented a total of 23 personalities living within him. However, it seems previously suppressed identities have recently taken control and are urging a 24th to emerge. After a birthday party, three teenage girls — Casey, Claire and Marcia (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula, respectively) — are taken from a parking lot and locked in a basement room. The purpose of their captivity is kept secret, but it’s apparent waiting to find out could be fatal. As the girls gradually get to know Kevin’s personalities, they discover which may be able to help them and which they will have to avoid to survive.
Characters with DID have previously been at the centre of thrillers and horror movies with the most recognized being John Lithgow’s character in Raising Cain. While Shyamalan’s depiction of the illness should not be considered medically accurate as it certainly takes liberties in its crude representation, it is a bit more ambitious than many of its predecessors. The filmmaker uses the condition to explore an idea that’s been raised in several of his previous films: the infinite potential of our minds and bodies to do unbelievable things. In this case, Dr. Fletcher has been ridiculed for trying to demonstrate that some of Kevin’s personalities affect physiological changes on his body, such as poor eyesight and diabetes — neither of which originate with Kevin nor do they affect the other personalities. This notion is taken one step further in the film’s conclusion. It also addresses the effects of suffering and trauma on one’s life, and the impression these experiences take something from the subject when it’s perhaps given them something instead.
The three young women don’t accept the inevitability of their situation and are determined to get away before they discover the reason for their abduction. Their scheming and escape attempts balance the less intense scenes in which the dominant personalities calmly discuss their next course of action while trying to stifle calls for help by the other identities. In the meantime, there’s a secondary narrative in which audiences get to know Casey’s history via flashbacks. She’s an outsider and isn’t really friends with her co-captives. Her behaviour throughout the film foreshadows the so-called reveal in her story, though that doesn’t diminish its effect on the narrative; instead, it produces a contrast between her character and Kevin’s.
In essence, this movie has two twists. The first is rather straightforward and requires no explanation. The second however, which occurs mid-credits, may not mean anything to some viewers; but for those who’ve followed Shyamalan’s career, it will be earth-shattering and change the entire context of the film. Since this is a spoiler-free review, we recommend visiting Google after watching for one of many in-depth discussions regarding the repercussions of this sensational reveal.
McAvoy takes on the challenges of this role with ease. His portrayals of Dennis, a man with OCD; Patricia, a thoughtful woman who’d do anything to protect Kevin; Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy; Barry, a fashion designer; and several others is astounding. Each personality is distinct and are occasionally present concurrently for important conversations. His ability to tie together all of these identities is remarkable. Taylor-Joy is quickly building a reputation as the go-to actress for complex, psychological thrillers/horror movies, having previously starred in The Witch and Morgan. Her performance is clearly dissimilar from the other two young women’s as her response to the situation is meant to be informed by her character’s different life experiences — she’s simply not like them, which becomes an important aspect of the story.
Shyamalan is definitely back on track and it’ll be exciting to see what he releases next.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy and Haley Lu Richardson
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