← Back to Reviews
 
SPLIT
M. Night Shyamalan, who redefined the psychological thriller with films like The Sixth Sense, The Village, and Unbreakable, has once again broken new ground with a 2016 thriller called Split which, despite a problematic screenplay, works thanks to Shyamalan's evocative direction and an absolutely spellbinding performance from his leading man.

Three teenage girls are kidnapped in a mall parking lot by a man who calls himself Dennis. He sprays something in the girls eyes and, of course, when they wake up, they are in some kind of basement, but Dennis turns out to be anything but your garden variety psychopath or sexual deviant. It is slowly revealed that Dennis is afflicted with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), also known as split personalities. It eventually comes to light that this man actually has 23 different personalities, though we only meet about eight of them in this story.

For those who never saw Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve, Sally Field in Sybil, or were not fans of the daytime drama One Life to Live, DID is a condition that is usually caused by a severe childhood trauma that the patient is unable to process in their mind and their only way of dealing with what happened to them is the manifestation of a separate personality, more commonly referred to as an "alter", who protects the person from the pain and from anyone who tries to make that person deal with said trauma. Alters are triggered when the person is forced into dealing with things too painful. Alters always have a different name than the victim, are not always the same age and sometimes aren't even the same sex, but they are all a manifestation of the victim's pain and their mission is to protect the patient. One alter usually takes the lead in protecting the patient and sometimes alters even pretend to be each other in order to become the lead protector.

One thing that Shyamalan's screenplay does is provide an insightful look into this disease that revealed several things that I didn't know about DID, such as the fact that alters can have different health issues than the patient. I was surprised when it was revealed that one of the alters in this story was a diabetic. It's also revealed in this story that alters can sometimes possess superhuman strength, not to mention that they can sometimes not even be human.

In this story, Dennis and another alter named Patricia seem to be running things and once the kidnap victims are in place, other alters begin making themselves known to the girls, including a 9 year old kid named Hedvig and a fashion designer named Barry. We are almost halfway through the film before we actually learn the real name of the patient, which is Kevin. Kevin's only link to the real world appears to be a psychiatrist named Dr. Karen Fletcher, who gets e-mails from Dennis whenever he wants an emergency "session" and is using her work with Kevin to further her own research into DID.

There is a whole lot of stuff that is unexplained here...except for a brief shot of a news broadcast reporting that these girls are missing, we see absolutely no effort from the outside world to find these girls. Logic and continuity are in question as the girls are eventually held in separate rooms and we see Dennis, Patricia, and company hopping from room to room within seconds, changing their clothes every time a new alter appears. We also see Dr. Fletcher watch the newscast about the missing girls and then immediately go to her computer as if she knows what Kevin is doing, but this turned out not to be the case at all.

Yes, there are plot holes you can drive a truck through, but any problems that this film have fall to the wayside, because of Shyamalan's imaginative direction and the amazing performance by James McAvoy as Kevin/Dennis/Hedvig/Barry/Patricia, etc. McAvoy brilliantly, with the aid of Shyamalan, creates eight distinct characters in this film like nothing I have ever seen. Maybe it had something to do with the time of the film's release, but how McAvoy didn't receive an Oscar nomination for this incredible performance is a mystery to me. McAvoy loses himself in every one of these characterizations and keeps meticulous track of what each one is supposed to be doing. There is one fabulous scene where Barry is meeting with Dr. Fletcher who suspects Barry is really Dennis and we are shocked when it turns out that the doctor is correct and that Dennis was actually pretending to be Barry. McAvoy is amazing in this movie and is worth the price of admission alone...the last time I saw an actor command a movie screen the way McAvoy does here was probably Jack Nicholson in The Shining and he gets solid support from Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher, a character a lot more complex than she appears on the surface.

This was a harrowing and exhausting motion picture experience where a director and an amazing actor completely disguise this film's flaws and keep the viewer completely wrapped up in this unconventional nail-biter.