Split (2016)

*. For a while M. Night Shyamalan virtually trademarked the twist ending, starting with The Sixth Sense (where it worked) and continuing through more recent films like The Village and The Visit (where it didn’t). Split doesn’t have a twist ending, which should have been a relief. Instead, I felt let down. Why?
*. The thing is, this is pretty simple stuff. The Collector rejuvenated by stories in the news about women who had been abducted and kept locked up in basements for years. And so we got The Room and 10 Cloverfield Lane and this picture, all coming out around the same time.
*. As a horror plot these stories have standard elements. There’s an attempt (or two) at escape, which fails. There is an attempt at a rescue, which fails. Then at last the heroine breaks free, blinking at the sunlight and breathing the open air.
*. That’s how Split plays out, with the only twist being revealed at the beginning. The abductor (James McAvoy) is a young man suffering from dissociative identity disorder (what used to be called split personality). Apparently he has 23 different identities bouncing around in his shaved noggin, with a 24th, alluded to darkly as “the Beast,” about to be born.
*. Well, that’s not that big a twist. And making matters worse is the fact that Shyamalan doesn’t really do anything with it. What I mean is, the fact that “Kevin” (to identify him by his real name) has all these different identities doesn’t serve any function in the plot. His different personalities are only costume changes.
*. The personalities are also just the usual range of stock types. There’s a working-class guy. A somewhat fey fashion designer. A very proper woman. A 9-year old child. McAvoy got a lot of credit for his performance, but actors love these kinds of roles because they can really show off. However, given the nature of the different identities I didn’t think it was a part that called for much. The only tricky part was when Kevin goes to his psychiatrist and plays Dennis pretending to be Barry. That was terrific, and shows what might have been done had the script given McAvoy something more to work with.

*. Anya Taylor-Joy (who was very busy around this time, starring in Morgan and The Witch the same year) has a more complicated part, but she’s not called upon to do much either. Instead, she’s left seeming vaguely autistic, gazing wide-eyed and somewhat blankly at whatever is going on.
*. Who on earth is the older woman that Dr. Fletcher watches the game show with? Just a neighbour? I found it interesting that in introducing the deleted scenes that are included with the DVD Shyamalan talks about how he had to cut an entire character who was a neighbour of Dr. Fletcher’s that she was flirting with because it wasn’t absolutely essential to the plot. But what purpose does this TV-watching scene have? It doesn’t give us any necessary information.
*. Most disappointing of all, however, is the ending. In which nothing is concluded. Is Casey really going back to live with her uncle? That uncle? Or does she even have an uncle? Maybe she’s the crazy one, and that’s the twist we still have coming somewhere down the road. Then what’s going on with Kevin? And what’s Bruce Willis (in his role as David Dunn from Unbreakable) doing here?
*. To find out the answers to all of those questions you’ll have to wait for the sequel to what we only now learn is going to be the final part in a trilogy. You can see what I mean by a let down. I would have preferred one of those ridiculous gimmick twists to such an anti-climax. But then, the middle film (or novel) in a trilogy is often only marking time.
*. I guess it’s decently made and put forward, but there are no big suspense sequences despite there being plenty of opportunities and it all left me feeling like it wasn’t adding up to much of anything. Mark Kermode: “It’s not brilliant, but it’s not bad.” So there. Shrug.

2 thoughts on “Split (2016)

  1. Tom Moody

    At the end The Beast tells Casey that “the broken” are pure and powerful. This is a point he seems to be proselytizing for, and has actually proven by becoming a super-powered “alter” within a menagerie of otherwise un-powered human types. We’ve been following Casey’s travails with a sexually abusive uncle in flashbacks — if anyone could use special powers, it’s her. Thus, she seems to be actually listening to The Beast when he gives his spiel at the end. When it’s time for her to go back to her uncle after her ordeal, she gets a very hard look on her face, so intense that it causes the helpful policewoman to flinch. We don’t know what happens next (until the next movie) but there’s an implication that The Beast has taught her how to deal with her Uncle John Problem, whether by accessing her inner Beast or simply being more confident with a shotgun.

    And sure enough, in the next movie, Glass, we learn that Uncle John is “in jail” but not how she put him there. Also, those soulful looks she keeps giving Kevin (the multi-personality guy) are not because she buys The Beast’s rap, necessarily, but because she “believes in” Kevin. As you noted, she’s pretty much a blank slate in both films so we never understand her motivations. I made these notes to clarify what I think she’s supposed to be thinking and doing in the context of the two films.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I remember her having a genuine connection to Kevin, and the rest of what you say sounds right. It seems like that message of believing in yourself/empowerment was the subtext (or maybe even the main text) of Glass as well. I’ll have to keep this in mind next time I see Split. At least I think it’s a movie I’ll see again sometime.


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