Split, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, appeared to be at first glance a return to past cinematic glory for the wildly popular director. However, this film is nothing more than a cliche filled, ego driven, meandering bore fest riddled with predictability. While I understand that Blumhouse is thrilled to release a product to a nationwide audience but one would think that they have standards of quality. Didn’t they see warning signs?
The story is about a man named Kevin who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. Kevin has 23 personalities, and it appears that the personalities with any conscience are no longer in control. “Dennis” (one of Kevin’s personalities with no moral compass) abducts three teenage girls and locks them in prison below the surface. Now if the movie had been this and this alone, we might have had a better overall product. However, it seems if the director was fueled by some desire to make the film predictable and cliche, so he creates a character in the story who saw the “good” in Kevin (his therapist played by Betty Buckley).
The therapist believes that people with multiple personalities can undergo changes biologically, making them appear to be very real. It would be one thing if the film got right to her point and put the focus back on Kevin, but alas her backstory went on and on and on. Nothing in the therapist story adds any layer or nuance to either the development of the film or Kevin himself.
The same can be said about the narrative surrounding Casey, which we see in the form of ill-timed flashbacks. How does knowing that her dad was sweet and her uncle was a child molester add anything to the story of Kevin’s break from reality? The answer is nothing. What it does do is distract from what’s important about the film, and that is Kevin Crumb’s mental well-being. When you add so many extraneous parts to the narrative, it loses focus and takes away from the impact of the film.
James McAvoy plays the villain Kevin Crumb and his performance is commendable. However, his efforts are wasted in this film. The supporting cast, including the three girls who are abducted, are incredibly lackluster and don’t elicit any empathy when the audience should 100% be pulling for their safe return. To take this point even further, it’s as if each girl serves as some sort of personality quota that the director was looking to fill, I can just hear him now.
” Okay … we need a feisty young looking girl, a popular blonde hair girl, and a loner who is the rational one of the bunch”
Kevin spends a majority of the film having an internal debate about his mental capacity and which personality is in charge. Why do I care which personality is calling the shots? FOCUS ON WHAT MATTERS! Why is Kevin even the way he is? The films barely address his past but doesn’t come close to addressing the level of psychological torture he endured to end up the way he was. Shymalan is hell bent on telling “his” story but isn’t dedicated to telling a quality story. It’s as if the director’s ego got the better of him.
In the end, Split is a film that got in the way of its own success. Instead of realizing what it already had, by adding layer after layer frivolous backstory it turned what was meant to be an extraordinary look into the evil one man possess to a very predictable look at someone with a mental illness.