Editor’s Notes: Split will be out on in its respective home video format April 18th.
Split stars James McAvoy as a man with 23 personalities. We never see all of them, but the ones that present themselves are wildly different, often dangerous, and consistently creepy.
The film opens as three girls — Casey Cook (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula) — are kidnapped from a parking lot by an oddly polite man who holds them captive in a series of locked, underground rooms. There is no possible way to escape.
Eventually, the girls discover that their abductor is several people in one, each vying for some degree of control. At times he is Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy, at other times he’s Patricia, a dignified, well-spoken woman, and frequently he is their captor, Kevin, who goes about dealing with the girls’ confinement in calm, matter-of-fact fashion.
Intermittently, we see Kevin in sessions with his therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley). She has been seeing him for some time and knows his case very well, so his recent impromptu visits suggest to her that he may be in crisis. During one session, she suspects that one of his personalities is impersonating another.
As the movie proceeds, focus increases on Casey. Flashbacks to her childhood reveal a series of traumatizing events. One of these is especially disturbing and will prove significant to the film’s climax.
Director M. Night Shyamalan achieved success with his twist endings. The Sixth Sense and Signs are the best examples of this, with stories of enormous suspense and a slam-bang unexpected ending. His more recent efforts have been flops — The Last Airbender and After Earth — so it’s nice to see that he’s back on track, helped tremendously by a tour-de-force performance by McAvoy.
Actors love to play multiple roles in a single movie or play, as they showcase their ability to inhabit different characters. In Split, McAvoy not only convinces us that he is numerous people in the same package, he does so mostly with his voice, gestures, and bearing. As Patricia, for example, there’s no wig, no exaggerated make-up, no flouncing. With a bald head and only a skirt and high heels, he manages to provide a genuinely creepy female alter-ego. When he’s Hedwig, he sits crunched up, reducing his physical size, and becomes a naive child not fully aware of the gravity of the girls’ plight. This multi-faceted performance never stops fascinating us. We have to know how the situation will play out and which personality, if any, will prevail.
The flashbacks to Casey’s childhood eventually converge with the present situation to explain a lot about her actions during her confinement and, yes, the revelation explains a lot. However, there is another scene tacked on that is less successful and creates more questions than it answers.
Rated PG-13, Split is an exciting thriller. Even if you’re not waiting impatiently for that twist at the end, the movie delivers plenty of tension as it explores the mind of a mentally unbalanced individual. Performances are excellent, the film’s central character rivets us with his unpredictability, suspense builds, and the film relies on deep characterization rather than cinematic trickery for its impact.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD release include an alternate ending, deleted scenes, and the featurettes “The Making of Split,” “The Many Faces of James McAvoy,” and “The Filmmaker’s Eye: M. Night Shyamalan .” A digital HD copy is included.