Split (2016)

Unbreakable

Split is a frustrating film to write about.

Kevin (James McAvoy) is a mind that embodies 23 different personalities – some more dominant than others and one that maybe hidden. As the film opens, Kevin kidnaps three girls from a parking lot. These three – Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) are locked up in a room in an unknown location by Kevin’s alter-personalities. One or some of Kevin’s personalities reaches out to his trusted therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), for help as they know this is wrong.

Split has some great things about it, but it also has some maddening and frustrating bits that M. Night Shyamalan continues to carryover from his previous films – including the incessant need to stick himself in his own movies and having a twist at the end.

This film has outstanding performances by James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. Both are fantastic in the film. McAvoy fully throws himself into the different roles – I counted that he did about eight of the personalities and they were all distinct. Taylor-Joy plays her role with a steadiness and assuredness that makes the character believable.

The cinematography of the whole film is beautiful, each shot framed for maximum impact – I loved some of the opening shots of the girls locked in the room that split the room in half using elements in the frame and put the girls on different sides perfectly showing how the girls align (see picture above). The use of slow pans and slow rack zooms also heighten the tension in the film – along with giving this film a very distinctive look.

Reading over my review Unbreakable, most of the things that I dislike about Shyamalan’s quirks carry over to this film (17 years later). His constant need to stroke his ego and insert himself into a speaking role in his film is not just unnecessary but completely distracting. Any tone that has been created is completely ruined by the scenes in which he finds it necessary to put himself into a speaking role. This is one of his worst traits as a filmmaker and after more than 20 years of doing this, he still hasn’t caught on that these seemingly simple speaking cameos that he does for his own vanity are a detriment to his films to the point of making people talk about how bad they are instead of how good the film is.

The pacing of the film is also glacial, just like Unbreakable. While this is a film that is based on comic book sensibilities – just like Unbreakable – I don’t expect world-extinction event type action sequences, but I do expect that the film move along at a pace that keeps my attention. While a good portion of this film is interesting, there are many parts that could have been cut out because they are given so little attention – more on this in the spoilers section.

Again, going back to my Unbreakable review, I’m going to cut and paste the film thoughts of that film into this review: Do I love the film? Not really. Do I appreciate it? Yes, most definitely.

Spoilers

If Unbreakable was a surprise and welcome origin story for a superhero that does not follow the men-in-tights formula, Split can be seen as the equivalent for a (second) supervillain in the Unbreakable universe. The twist at the end is nice and I like that this film ties into a larger universe – like how comic books stories should be. Could it have been done better and integrated better into the film? Most definitely, I don’t think the whole twist of adding this film into the Unbreakable universe was best done as a twist at the end of the film.

Did Dr. Fletcher help create or unleash The Beast through her therapy sessions through suggestions and reinforcement of what can happen with personalities? It is clear that some of Kevin’s personalities follow her studies and she is shown to suggest that different personalities can develop inhuman physical traits that only reside within that personality.

The parallel plot to the main plot that deals with Casey’s abusive uncle was not developed enough to have much impact. This is especially true by the end of the film when Casey is ultimately freed from her physical imprisonment by Kevin into the “care” of her uncle. Yes, I get that this subplot develops the reason why The Beast ultimately leaves Casey alone, but it is unfortunate that in the nearly two hour runtime of the film, Shyamalan couldn’t develop this subplot more – especially given how slow and sometimes overweight the film is.

The same can be said about the underdeveloped roles of Claire, Marcia and all the personalities of Kevin. While I could tell the difference between the personalities of Kevin, this was because of McAvoy’s performance. The personalities themselves were rather thinly written.

Watched at home on Blu-ray.


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