Split (2017)
Split (2017)

Genre: Horror and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

Release Date: January 20th, 2017 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: M. Night Shyamalan Actors: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Sebastian Arcelus, Brad William Henke

 


 

C

laire (Haley Lu Richardson) feels obligated to invite everyone in her art class to a party, which means that loner Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) attends, even though no one really likes her. When Casey’s ride doesn’t show up, Claire’s father offers to drive her home, along with friend Marcia (Jessica Sula). But as they pile into the car, a stranger attacks them, tossing the father’s body into the trunk and spraying a chemical into the faces of the three teenage girls, knocking them unconscious.

Some time later, the girls awake in a subterraneous prison, with a locked metal door, rock walls, and two beds. When the kidnapper (James McAvoy) turns up, he chooses Marcia first, dragging her into an adjoining room as she kicks and screams. But a few seconds later, he returns her, apparently displeased with her lack of cooperation. Believing that they only have a limited amount of time before they’re assaulted again, Claire and Marcia attempt to plot a counterattack – but Casey remains distant, pondering her childhood, remembering hunting trips with her father (Sebastian Arcelus) and uncle (Brad William Henke). She’s unsure if fighting is the right choice. “You don’t even know what this is yet.”

The opening sequence is expertly handled, transitioning a largely docile scenario into a terrifying one in the blink of an eye. Were it not for M. Night Shyamalan’s name as writer and director in the credits, paired with ominous music by West Dylan Thordson, it would be a completely unpredictable turn of events. Nevertheless, the thrills continue to escalate, primarily from never knowing exactly what McAvoy’s character is capable of; it’s soon revealed that he suffers from a multiple personality disorder – and some of his 23 personas (as diagnosed by Dr. Fletcher [Betty Buckley]) are markedly unhinged.

There are subtle elements of humor mixed into the pervasive uncomfortableness of a dominating captor alternately intimidating and toying with his prey, but the tension is continuous. Fingering sharp objects, spying escape routes, and acting on hasty plans are all nerve-wracking actions, but Casey’s efforts to outsmart her opponent generate a bit of depth for both her introversion as well as the tormented antagonist, whose affliction came about from extreme psychological distresses. Sharp foreshadowing hints at the arrival of the most violent of the identities, while therapy sessions with Dr. Fletcher shed additional light on motives, and flashbacks detail Casey’s own complicated issues. “I should have understood what you’re capable of.”

But, like in “Unbreakable,” there’s a slowness to the story, coupled with aggravating mistakes by supporting roles, which inspire the opposite of chills: exasperation. It is, however, amusing that typical movie heroes are absent; it’s up to the overpowered, unprepared young women to fend for themselves. And McAvoy’s acting is impressive, managing to uphold interest even though the range of his split personalities isn’t uncommonly drastic (and such performances have been done before in comparable thrillers). Plus, the finale is unheralded and different, despite not being resolute; it’s once again a piece of something larger, which follows along with Shyamalan’s down-to-earth vision of more believable, reality-based (not colorful or over-the-top) superheroes and supervillains.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10