BY DYLYN PETERSON
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
WARNING: Due to the nature of this film (an M. Night Shyamalan thriller), this review contains major spoilers. Proceed at your own caution.
After more than a decade of laughably terrible movies, M. Night Shyamalan returns in more-or-less glorious fashion with Split. The premise of the movie is as simple as it is scientifically inaccurate: three teenaged girls are kidnapped by Kevin, a man with dissociative identity disorder (which, as a psychology student, I feel mandated to tell you probably doesn’t exist), and locked in his horrific murder basement as a sacrifice for his hidden, twenty-fourth personality, the Beast. If that name makes you giggle, this is not a movie for you.
Unlike most Shyamalan films, Split is never so good as to be classic, or so horrible it becomes a comedy. The Happening this is not, but neither is it Unbreakable.
There are moments of inspired cinematography (a good example happens in the scene in the car at the beginning of the movie), and absurd, goofy things happen only on occasion, broken up by acceptable suspense.
Most of the performances are bland, neither bad nor good, just barely serviceable enough to be unnoticeable, save James McAvoy as Kevin. I’ll tell it to you straight: if I was reviewing this movie exclusively on the basis of James McAvoy’s acting, it would be eight pulsating green veins on the Beast’s back out of seven. Not only does he portray each of the alternate personalities distinctively and effectively, but he pulls off the Herculean task of playing a character who is pretending to be someone else really well. One can often tell which personality is in control just by McAvoy’s facial expression.
Speaking of these personalities, don’t so much as consider taking a bathroom break when Hedwig, the nine-year-old personality, is around. At one point, the movie grinds to a halt so he can dance to Kanye West for a solid minute. It is exactly as awesome and ridiculous as it sounds.
But on the topic of children, we find the biggest problem with Split…it’s creepy. Really, really creepy, and not in the way one hopes for or expects from a thriller.
An uncomfortable amount of the plot hinges on child molestation. Two of our three female leads end up in a bra and a skirt and a sweater and panties respectively, and they’re supposed to be highschoolers. Eww.
And while I’ve said this movie isn’t wholly over-the-top and stupid. It has no lack of arbitrary plot points and silliness. Although Kevin supposedly has twenty-four personalities, we only get to see seven of them. And despite the explanation (which is common in psychoanalysis) that these personalities were created as a coping mechanism for abuse and high stress, in what situation, exactly, did he need to become a gay fashion designer, or a historian focused on the eleventh century? The film also makes the claim that these personalities can have different biochemistry (and I guess this has some kind of backing in the medical literature, although it’s from a pediatrician with no psychiatry background). One of the personalities has diabetes, and the Beast has superpowers.
Somewhat early in the film, it’s revealed that the girls were kidnapped to be a “sacred meal” for the Beast, and one might assume that that’s meant metaphorically. No. The Beast literally eats two of the girls.
Also, in a line that comes from a news report playing in a diner mere moments from the credits, we learn that the Beast apparently got his powers (superstrength, strong skin, and walking on walls) by absorbing the powers of all the animals in the zoo Kevin works at. Just…what?
Now, in the discussion of an M. Night Shyamalan movie, we must come to the inevitable twist ending. This one is less, “rewatch the movie to find the clues,” or, “make fun of this with your friends viciously for years” (looking at you, Signs), but rather, “wow, this movie is kinda awesome.”
While most moviegoers attended this film with the expectation to see a rendition of 10 Cloverfield Lane starring Professor X as Professor X’s kid, it was secretly a supervillain origin story, and a stealth sequel to Unbreakable.
While the possibilities are awesome, and I appreciated seeing Bruce Willis for ten seconds before the credits roll, Split is a very flawed movie. I’ve debated with myself for days over what score it deserves, and I have no choice but to give it four-and-a-half characters-James-McAvoy-is-credited-for-playing out of seven.