Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Music by West Dylan Thordson
Cinematography by Mike Gioulakis
Film editing by Luke Franco Ciarrocchi
Filmed on location in Pennsylvania
If you’re like me, once you see at least one trailer and a poster for a film you can lay out exactly what is going to happen and what the ending will be. No? You’re nothing like me and you’re think I’m bragging? Try going to several movies a week and never being surprised. Not so much fun now, is it? Okay, but I’m sure that you have bitched about how all the best scenes from the film are crammed into the trailer. If it’s a comedy. a bad comedy, the only funny scenes are right there in the trailer. The rest of the movie is crap. Even in the best comedies, there are scenes in the previews that are great, but they aren’t in the movie. Action film trailers are non-stop crashes, gun fights, blood flying, cars rolling, explosions everywhere, and then the actual movie is pretty much the same scenes rearranged and padded out with plot.
If you’ve seen the trailers for Split, the trailer production company has done us all a great disservice in showing us far too much about the main plot and I will leave it at that. *No Spoilers* Should you be fortunate enough to not have seen any of the ads, run out of the living room when they come on, jump up and go pee if you are at the theatre. Just do your best to protect yourself if you plan to see the film itself, because I have tried to track down the company who edited the trailers with no luck, so we can’t take our frustration out on them. I mean, c’mon, guys! This is Shyamalan! Let us be stunned by all the twists and turns. Just because you had to see the script first doesn’t mean you have to take some of the creepy fun from us!
Fortunately, there is plenty of stuff going on and scares start when you buy your ticket, because you know what you are letting yourself in for when you venture into Shyamalan’s mind. And this is one of the most purely frightening corners of his mind, I will tell you that. The film truly begins with a close-up of Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) the outsider, who is all eyes and perfect bow mouth, with fear coming off her in waves that are unmistakeable. Unmistakeable to everyone except every character in the film, but isn’t how plots work? Actually, judging by the audience reaction, the reveal came as a shock to almost all of them, too. The first scene plays out in a car, seen through Casey’s alert, terrified eyed. The tight focus, painfully tense music, and claustrophobic set were instantly evocative of Alfred Hitchcock at his best.
This scene, like most, is all Taylor-Joy’s and McAvoy’s. Looked at objectively, Split is a three-actor movie, with Betty Buckley joining in as Dr. Karen Fletcher, Barry’s (McAvoy) caring and supporting psychiatrist, but, we quickly learn, no fool. Yes, McAvoy’s character kidnaps three girls and Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula play the parts of the pampered, then determined young women with growing desperation. Of course, Shyamalan puts in his cameo. Fortunately, he can act, so it is never as eye-rolling as Stan Lee’s, but not as tricky as Hitch’s.
Dr. Fletcher thinks something is going with Barry and the twenty-three other distinct personalities that live with him inside the mind of Kevin. Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is Fletcher’s specialisation. She has spent decades trying to prove its existence and the power of the mind to give the alters different abilities and physiology. The psychiatric world has spent the same amount of time saying bullshit. How can she know how truly sick he is? She could ask the girls he kidnapped.
What could be more terrifying for a bunch of teenage girls than being held by a man somewhere with no idea what is going to happen to them or if anyway will ever find them? It takes them awhile to find out. Dennis, this stiff, forbidding man who menaces them may not be the only one there; they hear him talking to a woman. Except, when the woman they hang their hopes on enters their prison, it is Dennis, Dennis in women’s clothing, speaking like a very prim woman, Patricia. To say their hopes are dashed and their fear level hits red is putting it mildly. Again, the tasking of unsnarling this particularly nasty snarl of Christmas lights falls to Casey, and quick, because they won’t make it that long in their dungeon.
Is there any only hope of escape for the young women if it only is a brittle bridge being slowly built piece by piece between Casey and Dr. Fletcher, though neither knows the other exists? And how did Casey learn how to survive? What the hell split Kevin’s mind into so many pieces?
And, for shit’s sake, will people stop saying, “It’s no Sixth Sense”? No, it’s not. It’s an entirely different kind of scary and it succeeds on every level. Say, thank you, Mr. Shyamalan, Mr. McAvoy, Miss Buckley, and Miss Taylor-Joy, it wouldn’t have happened without you.