Horror movies are the bane of my existence. Psychological thrillers are my kryptonite. The trailers for Split had me, quite frankly, split.
At first glance, I wrote Split off as a typical modern-day Hollywood horror film and decided to pass. After all, there`s nothing terribly unique about a movie centered around three teenage girls being kidnapped by an unstable man (Taken Trilogy, I`m looking at you). What hooked me was the introduction of Kevin (played by James McAvoy) and his multiple identities, whom the girls are tasked with escaping from. The concept in essence is Orphan Black meets Criminal Minds, maxed out. Enter kryptonite.
The film starts out strong and maintains the pace for the majority of the time, aside from the instances when viewers are forced to interact with Kevin`s psychiatrist, played by Betty Buckley. Although it is evident that Buckley herself is a talented actor, it was a challenge to salvage the character of Dr. Fletcher. She is oddly naive and unaware of what is going on with her patient and his new playthings, despite a wide array of suspicious behavior. Someone dropped the professionalism ball. Her character largely falls flat but is redeemed by her ability to bring out McAvoy`s excellent acting.
The teenage girls, with the exception of Casey (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) are also there mostly for the sake of filler; their only activity seems to be standing around terrified in progressively skimpier outfits, while Casey (the only one with any common sense) attempts to understand their captor’s personalities and devise an escape plan. With a little restructuring, the film could have likely been played with a reduced cast consisting of McAvoy, Taylor-Joy and Buckley and some off-screen screams. It can be argued however, that the presence of filler roles is deliberate in order to flesh out McAvoy’s numerous characters as much as possible, making it forgivable.
It’s clear that the real star of the show is McAvoy, who cycles through his multiple personalities with delightful ease and carries the film almost entirely on his own. His ability to transition between the three most dominant personalities-Dennis, Patricia and Hedwing- on a dime is fascinating to watch, and makes me wish we had been able to interact with more than just a handful of the twenty-three personalities we keep hearing about throughout the film.
This is not to say that the film wasn’t good. M. Night Shyamalan teases out questions of self-awareness and normality in a way that does not feel forced or cliché and establishes a gripping storyline early on. Viewers easily get pulled into the bizarre happenings of the film and are willing to ride the story out from start to finish. This fact makes the somewhat lackluster ending a bit of a disappointment. Although the emotional connection is important to the overall tone and message of the film, it felt as if it was cut off prematurely. Fleshing the moment out more would have potentially lead to a more well-rounded ending and perhaps not left viewers with a feeling that something was missing.
However, this sense of wanting more than we get may have been intentional, as talks of a sequel began soon after the film hit the box office. It will be exciting to see the directions this plot line evolves. One can only hope that it will delve deeper into Kevin’s multiple psyches and deliver the punch such a screenplay truly deserves.