A interesting concept with a lot of potential flatlines due to poor writing and heavy handed foreshadowing.
‘Split’, the latest film in the rocky career of M.Night Shyamalan, focuses on the idea of multiple personalities disorders and what would happen if a person could control these personalities and if the mind could alter its body chemistry and structure based on which personality was in charge at that time.
It’s an interesting concept, the film tries to make out that it’s ‘science’ but it does tread a pretty close line to science-fiction and the supernatural at times. This isn’t too much of an issue at first, as long as you buy into the ‘facts’ that the film is telling you.
‘Split’ opens on the birthday party of someone too old to be having a party made up of all her class mates. Three of these girls are subsequently kidnapped by a mysterious man (James McAvoy). The girls are best friends Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) and the class weirdo Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), who they’ve invited along out of pity. The girls awake in a creepy, windowless room with no idea where they are or why they’ve been taken.
The girls soon meet with their kidnapper, Dennis, a sociopath with an OCD complex. They’re terrified of him; cold and calculated, he seems unpredictable. Next they meet Patricia, someone they believe will be able to help them. The twist, Patricia is Dennis and it doesn’t stop there. There are twenty-three individual, distinct personalities within Kevin Wendall Crumb, all of which have their own ideals, plans and motives. Dr Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) has studied the condition for many years and one of the only ones who believes in it’s full power/extent. Kevin is one of her regular patients and she believes there’s much more going on than the limited personalities that she has been allowed to meet will tell her.
The three girls try to escape while interacting with Kevin’s difference personalities. We’re also given flashbacks to Casey’s childhood with her father and uncle where she was taught how to hunt from a very young age.
I’ll start with what this film does well. And by the film I mean James McAvoy. He’s allowed to run free, give each personality his all and he’s got to be given huge credit for his characterisation and mannerisms of each person. He subtly changes his body language, voice and movements to hint at which character is ‘in the light’ at that time. He is really great in this film. It’s a huge shame that the poor writing doesn’t allow him to really really show off his potential and the film only hints at what’s going on inside his mind.
That’s pretty much all I could find to like about this film.
It’s all pretty dumb. The film goes exactly where you expect it to go while offering little of interest along the way. Despite being a kidnap story it’s neither tense nor scary and I think this comes down to the fact that you don’t really care about any of the victims. This isn’t down to any of the actors, who all do a decent enough job with what they’re given, it’s the fact they’re given so little. We don’t know anything about Claire or Marcia and even though we see a bit of Casey’s upbringing, it’s handled so poorly it feels completely disconnected from her character as a young adult. It’s hard to care for characters that you know absolutely nothing about.
So, you don’t really care what happens to your main characters, what else can this film offer? How about some twist, turns and reveals? Well there aren’t many of those either, and the few that there are, are so horribly, obviously foreshadowed you’ll have guessed what’s going on well before the characters do. For around half the film I was expecting something more to happen but it goes exactly where you think it’s going, no red herrings just bad ‘hinting’ to the audience.
The end slips into generic, cliche horror tropes but without offering any sort of fear factor. The resolution is kind of stupid and I was left not really caring what happened to any of the characters. The film has tried to focus on how this is all set in the ‘real world’ and how it can be explained by science, so when it dissolves into pure supernatural/science fiction it all gets a little silly and hard to believe. I have no problem with supernatural films, in fact I really enjoy them, but for me it didn’t work in any respect in this film.
Not only does this film completely fail as a film in terms of creating an atmosphere and characters you care about, it also has a very poor handling of mental illness. It can range from being slightly ignorant to just out right offensive. Not knowing much about personality disorders it isn’t my place to comment but it seems like the filmmakers have simply read the wikipedia page on it and decided that’s all the research they needed to do.
McAvoy gives a strong performance and, if at one point I hadn’t literally gesticulate at the screen in despair at the stupidness of it all, I’d give this film an extra star based on his acting alone.
But I did, so I won’t.