REVIEW: Split

I’m torn on how to feel about Split; on one hand, it’s one of the most excellent films about mental illness ever made. On another, I can’t help but feel cheapened by one of the twists.

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Split tackles some pretty controversial subject matter with poise and grace: Dissociative Identity Disorder, molestation, depression, etc. The movie feels insanely harrowing at times — almost uncomfortably oppressive. That’s an achievement in its own right. It’s rooted in a strangely grounded world that was later squandered by something blatantly unnecessary.

However, not enough praise can be given to James McAvoy. He commands the screen with every move, every voice, and every subtle mannerism. Sometimes, McAvoy will seamlessly transitions between personalities. It’s truly a marvel — a career defining performance. Split is worth viewing for his role as Kevin alone.

The same could be said for Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, the film’s “counter-lead.” She sells internal turmoil simply and effectively. Not once did she overreact or sell something too hard. It was perfectly subdued… she left me speechless numerous times.

Split plays up horror conventions brilliantly and subverts genre tropes in interesting ways. This particular mash-up of film styles works through the cinematography of Mike Gioulakis (who previously defined the look of It Follows).

There’s a point in the film where I felt things change; from that moment forward, everything grounded is thrown out the window in favor of the supernatural. It isn’t a cool bait-and-switch in the vein of From Dusk ‘Til Dawn… but more like an emotionally stirring thriller transformed into possible popcorn bait. Split betrays itself.

 

PLOT AND ENDING SPOILERS FOR THE SURPRISE TWIST OF SPLIT:

 

In the last few minutes, Split is revealed to be a bizarre meta-sequel to Shyamalan’s earlier cult film, Unbreakable. It was something I didn’t fully fathom or realize it upon seeing the film’s final scene — I haven’t seen Unbreakable, but I did recognize Bruce Willis. The name on his shirt prompted a Google search (and the mention of a “Mr. Glass” sounded so familiar).

This was crushing to me. It was disappointing enough to see the 24th identity of Kevin (The Beast) manifest in an overt, superhuman manner, but the fact that the film sets itself up as a villain origin story in a “pre-credits scene”… it’s baffling. It completely overshadows the plot of the three girls — Casey, in particular. No one will remember Casey’s childhood or the horrid fact that she’s going back home to be abused. That doesn’t matter though. This was a teaser for an Unbreakable sequel masked as an independent, standalone film. Now, all people will see is a sequel to a 17 year-old movie.

Shared universes may be the “in” thing of the day, but I certainly didn’t expect — or anticipate — this. I suppose the twist was effective, in that respect. This “twist” serves to undermine the intimate nature of Split and mold it into strange sequel territory.

 

END SPOILERS

 

Overall, Split was perfectly crafted — and delightfully acted. It’s such a shame that, because of decisions made in the final act, it’ll never be allowed to stand on its own merit. It’s been awhile since a new and original film has grabbed me like this one, so I can’t fault it too terribly much. It’s a film that’s difficult to sum up with a simple numerical rating. The plot itself isn’t too complex, but its inner-workings certainly are.

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