Split is the 2016 movie starring James McAvoy portrays a young man with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) with 24 distinct personalities. Although it is stated the main character has 24 distinct personalities, only three was really seen on film: Dennis (the neat freak), Patricia (the manipulator) and Hedwig (the naïve 9 year old). One of those personalities abducts three teenage girls on their way home from a birthday party. Claire (played by Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (played by Jessica Sula) and Casey (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) must learn to navigate the puzzle of this man’s mind in order to survive. With haunting memories of her own past, Casey tries to build a rapport with this man in order to help them escape. In true M. Night Shyamalan fashion, this movie has many twists and turns.
I am not a M. Night Shyamalan fan and having a movie with a patient with DID is tricky. DID is very controversial and rare to manifest in real life. Most DID patients are not psychic or even a danger to those around them as it is portrayed in this film as well as others. Shyamalan took inspiration from the real case of Billy Milligan, a man who claimed his other personalities perpetrated the crimes he stood trial for. I loved James McAvoy’s performance. He is simply amazing as he seamlessly creates and switches between his character’s personalities. He was able to make these personalities believable and frightening. I also enjoyed Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance as Casey. She plays the unpopular, introverted and awkward Casey so convincingly that you are trying to figure her out as well as her captor. The audience may question if she’s really a victim or could she be an accomplice. The movie focuses so much on the interaction between Casey and her captor, it makes sense that McAvoy’s and Taylor-Joy’s performance needed to be spot on.
The main aspect of Split I didn’t like is the runtime. The runtime of the movie is 1 hour and 57 minutes and you feel every minute. In classic M. Night Shyamalan style, the movie is painstakingly slow until the final act and then it feels rushed. Although I have seen other movies with longer run times but some of them you don’t notice the time. And I will admit that every detail needs to be seen in each minute, blink or leave the room and you will miss something important. You may not know it at the time but when the movie wraps up, it will make sense. I will also admit that with McAvoy’s performance, you are draw in and mesmerized. If you are going to watch this film, I recommend watching it when you are well rested because if you doze off at any time (like my husband did), you will miss so much. If you aren’t prepared to pay attention, you aren’t going to enjoy the movie.
Majority of critics and audiences praised this movie. One critic praised the twist at the end as Shyamalan’s best since the twist in The Sixth Sense. First, I won’t say what it is as it would be a spoiler. However, I would not call this particular scene a twist, it’s more of a set up for a possible future film. Some critics were not so kind to Split. One reviewer called it “exploitive trash” (the movie explores the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse) as “he returns to what he loves to do: use cheap horror tropes to create his own harebrained mythos” (David Edelstein, Vulture.com). I thought the subject of sexual abuse was done very carefully. It’s alluded to enough that the audience understands one aspect of the character’s past and how it affects his or her present. Another reviewer commented that once again a Shyamalan movie is set in Philadelphia. My response: so what? Most of John Hughes films are set in the Chicago area and no one criticized him for that (at least not to my knowledge). Overall, the reviews I read came into one of two camps: fans and those who enjoy Shyamalan’s films and those who do not and hate it simply because it is a M. Night Shyamalan film.
In conclusion, Split is the first M. Night Shyamalan movie I’ve been able to enjoy since the horrible ending to The Village (2004). Even if you are not a fan of M. Night Shyamalan, I recommend that you give the movie a try. James McAvoy’s performance makes the movie so worthwhile. Despite its flaws and inaccuracies, Split is an engaging film which will leave you guessing as to this man’s motive and how everything resolve. Even if you aren’t a M. Night Shyamalan fan, give Split a try, if even it’s just for James McAvoy’s performance, you may be surprised.