Film Review: Split

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

A movie that cannot be grouped in one genre only "Split" is described as a drama, horror, mystery and suspense. There are plenty of twists and turns in the story that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. One of the lead characters is constantly suffering from a multiple personality disorder. 7 out of 10 stars.

I love criminally insane characters. That is, I love to hate them. Few other temperaments make a character so engaging. From Norman Bates in Psycho to Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, psychotic characters are a gem of cinema, usually adding new dimensions to screen acting.

Nonetheless, such characters are so tricky to play, more so than not, audiences are treated to unwholesome, pretentious performances from actors. As in the case of Jared Leto when he played The Joker (in Suicide Squad), a stark contrast from when Jack Nicholson or Heith Ledger did so. There had not been a memorable villain in some time.

The last notable bad guy, I think, was Calvin Candie in Django Unchained, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Split, the new M. Night Shyamaln movie, comes with a villain to give Candie a run for his money. Casey Cookie (Anya Taylor-Joy) is not our ordinary female teen. Her problems are a little more complicated than having to repeat the same outfit or not getting enough Facebook likes.

She frequently harms herself as a result of an abusive uncle who has taken her in after her parents’ death. At school, understandably, she finds it hard to make friends. One day though, a father of one of her classmates offers a ride home. Things change. The father is attacked by an unknown assailant, and Casey and two other girls are kidnapped. At first, the kidnapper appears to be a germophobiac middle-aged man who likes to see girls dance. In a subsequent scene, he is an amiable fashion savvy homosexual. Then he turns into a strict, soft-spoken motherly woman. At times, he also becomes a nine-year-old with a lisp.

The kidnapper’s name is Kevin, and his multiple personalities go by the name of Barry, Dennis, Patricia, Hedwig and so on. He has what is known as Multiple Personality Disorder, a severe mental illness where two or more personalities intermittently take control of a person’s consciousness. A psychiatrist Kevin frequents, in the form of one of his personalities, carefully documents Kevin’s personas and has found 23 of them in residence.

Now, some of Kevin’s more aggressive personalities, whenever they get a chance to take over his mind and body, warn of a 24th personality. It is called the Beast and has supernatural powers. The three kidnapped girls are meant to be sacrifices for this very same, very unique personality.

But is this 24th personality a fantasy or is it real?

And if real, how could it have supernatural powers?

The answer is more interesting than meets the eye. Anyone that is fairly familiar with Shyamalan’s movies knows the answers to the above questions. Few filmmakers are more fascinated with supernatural occurrences, and how they affect people. He does not depict these instances using heavy special effects or gives them capacious significance. They are always familial problems meant to be handled in a close-knit emotional manner.

Nonetheless, Shyamalan is not always successful at getting his point across. His first film is, almost unanimously, his greatest. Released in a year where so many other momentous films came out, The Sixth Sense was a sensation. It heralded – or so everybody thought – a wunderkind of “Spielberg-ian” proportions, who can make a carefully crafted film out of such a commercial plot. Shyamalan followed this with another Bruce Willis starring drama, Unbreakable.

It was a fantastic movie, a mystery full of twists and turns with yet again another surprising ending. It was becoming clear what type of stories the young filmmaker was fond of – small family dramas with mind-blowing endings. What no one saw coming was Shyamalan moving on to direct such lousy, highbrow catastrophes as The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth. After the impotent After Earth, Shyamalan announced he was going back to small personal productions.

The Visit was not a great movie – it was full of clichés – but it was the most respectable film he had made in a long time, a step in the right direction. During this time, he had been playing around with the idea of a sequel to Unbreakable. That idea has now materialized and has been titled Split. The film is technically a spin-off and, until the very end, never alludes to this fact. This is one of the strengths of the movie, but to some, it is also a weakness.

It is unfair when a movie modifies its genre in order to bring about a satisfying conclusion; it constitutes a deus ex machina. In a similar manner Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige played with the same trick – the genre, which up until the very end was a thriller, is changed into science fiction and the mystery suddenly became clear. But I still liked Split, I was nonetheless surprised he could be so good playing a villain.

It was one of the most uncompromising performances in all of Shyamalan’s movies and probably one of the year’s most impressive.

By Christian Tesfaye
Exclusive to Fortune

Published on Mar 04,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 878]



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