Film Review: Split

  • NQ's James Power reviews the gruesome new thriller from M Night Shyamalan, Split
  • James McAvoy likely to Split audiences with new film

There is one problem with watching an M Night Shyamalan film – you spend the entire runtime trying to guess what the inevitable twist will be. Maybe she’s in on it? Maybe he’s really the good guy? Maybe the main character is allergic to water?

However, in a rare Shyamalan moment, we are introduced to the twist from the very start of Split, his latest effort since 2015’s The Visit. It’s a movie revolving solely around Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with 24 different personalities, all two dozen as different and extreme as each other and able of ‘taking the light’ from Kevin at any moment.

The film drops you into the situation suddenly as we meet one of the alter egos, creepy clean freak Dennis. Within minutes he’s abducted three school girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) and is holding them captive in his dingy basement before you can say “Bruce Willis is dead all along”.

There are some spectacular performances in Split, most notably McAvoy who looks as if he’s relishing the opportunity to act out so many different characters in one film – some better than others it must be said. His portrayal of fashion student Barry and nine-year-old Hedwig are as exceptionally spine-chilling and uncomfortable as they should be.

Midway through the film comes a scene when, in a session with his psychiatrist Dr Karen Flethcher (played brilliantly by Betty Buckley), you see Dennis ‘take the light’ from Barry in one uncut shot. The way McAvoy acts between the different personalities using only his facial expressions is both creepy and brilliant to watch.

However, by no fault of McAvoy, this creepiness is repeatedly overcooked throughout Split’s script. No more so than when the aforementioned Hedwig asks Casey, one of the captive schoolgirls to kiss him – the moment is enough to make audiences wince and their stomachs turn. It’s horrific, but not how it should be. Sexualising keeping young women captive is such a perverted device to use in a horror movie and one that Shyamalan uses far too often in this instance.

Moreover, there are flaws throughout the entire film. One such is how totally and ridiculously unbelievable it is. Usually, this is a fine thing to do in horror movies – but Split clearly tries to justify the plot as being entirely legitimate. For one person to have a whole 24 personalities is inconceivable, never mind them being able to alter a person’s physical abilities so dramatically.

There are arguments that the whole pretence of having a central character with dissociative identity disorder could be offensive to anyone suffering from the condition in the real world – it really is that far from reality.

As well as some clearly talented actors on display in the movie, the camera work is artistic and wonderful and if you can look past Shyamalan’s exploitative plot then Split is a film you will thoroughly enjoy watching.