Split – A Review

Posted: 04/17/2017 in Uncategorized

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Welcome back M.Night. To say that this is one of the best films I have seen in 2017 would be an understatement. An amalgam of horror, scif-fi and drama, Shyamalan delivers on the potential he once so freely demonstrated. For those who bemoaned a lost opportunity in “The Village”, “Split” brings nothing but payoff. While off track for several years in the minds of many, including my own, the man with the “twists” rediscovers his A game with this flick. My incredibly pleased review follows.

What makes this film great is how it contracts, seemingly opening with a trope-ish abduction then retreating into a think piece essentially between two main characters. For those who fear an overly cerebral run…there is no dearth of action of suspense. The reason lies in the exceptional performances of two actors- James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb is incandescent. Playing 23 different characters with the ease of someone trying on a new jacket, we are witness to some to the most terrific acting to grace the big screen. Here too there is a contracting as he focuses on three essential characters as dominant personalities. Watching him play a nine year old boy, a school marmish woman and an epic control freak is something to behold. Each is its own seamless entity.

Equally engaging is Taylor-Joy whose Casey is probably the most sympathetic character M. Night has brought forth since Bryce Dallas Howard’s “Ivy” in the aforementioned Village. Casey is intelligent yet distant. She stands apart from her two fellow abductees, Clare (Haley Lu Richardson ) and Marica (Jessica Sula) who come from privilege. Her choosing to learn more about her captor and environment rather than attempting a risky escape illustrates her difference from the two young women. They rankle at her decision and deride her but Casey’s behavior is no act of pique. As more revelations of her backstory are pushed forth, the viewer’s sympathy and empathy for her grow accordingly. Though Casey’s initial reticence seems hollow, it becomes understandable once we gain a deeper insight of her hard won knowledge of aberrant behavior.

She reaches out to Kevin, attempting to engage his more innocent self knowing full well his harder versions cannot be reasoned with. Ms. Patricia is a obsessive and gently menacing aspect while Dennis is a cauldron of barely restrained impulses. Hedwig while potentially as dangerous allows her to broker a connection. Her enticing him to bring her back to his “room with a window” is a powerful scene. His ‘dance routine’ which is duly disturbing is peppered with an absolutely demoralizing reveal about said room. We share in Casey’s sorrow when she gets a deeper glimpse as to how mad this fellow truly is.

Betty Buckley, star of stage and screen, plays Kevin’s therapist Dr. Fletcher. She is tremendously empathetic and believes that every personality of Kevin’s DID (Disassociative Identity Disorder) is a genuine entity and must be afforded due respect. Her theory of the manifestation of physical differentiation of said condition between personalities hearkens to the idea that what is perceived as an illness could in fact be  a key facet of the supernatural. While such theory seems a bit off the beaten track, it does give one pause and begins to push the film more into the horror genre. The idea that such a condition could in fact lead to a ‘superior’ state is duly discussed.

As with Shymalan’s earlier work, one just doesn’t know exactly where he is leading us and in the case of “Split”, that is a very good thing. When Fletcher gets to the heart of the matter, namely the goal of Kevin’s dominant personalities subsuming the less aggressive, reasonable ones, the film takes a darker, starker direction. Dennis speaking of a “Beast”  on the move seems metaphorical and with such a fragmented psyche, the notion of what is real and what is not is tenuous. The idea of purity  of heart being a facet of those who are victims of trauma is a fairly transcendent idea.

Every scene between Casey and Kevin is riveting. Their connecting is almost a dance at its onset as she attempts to elicit more information from him, striving to reach his humanity. He in turn is fascinated by both her fearlessness and curiosity and gives her a glimmer of hope via small reveals from Hedwig. Both characters are assuredly victims who take incredibly diverging paths in life.

Even the location of the entire affair is puzzling. We know only that it seems to be an industrial complex of sorts. Until the very end, the viewer posits where these women might be. The denouement gives some level of explanation as to core of Kevin and who he truly is. The depiction of Kevin in his ‘manic’ states is top shelf suspense- and horror. The finale packs a deep, emotional wallop.

This return to gripping story telling form in and of itself is stupendous. An end scene however elevates this film to an unexpected, rewarding level. Split is all about payoff. With the film’s finale, the payoff appears to be ongoing. Split is simply outstanding and well, well worth your time.

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