"Scary Psychological Thriller"

Content: -2 Discretion advised for adults.

What You Need To Know:

SPLIT is a scary psychological thriller from M. Night Shyamalan. Three teenage girls wait in a car outside a mall for one of their fathers. A creepy stranger slides behind the wheel, dons a mask and knocks out all three girls with a spray. They awaken in a creepy underground lair and discover their kidnapper has a never-ending change of personalities ranging from a mentally challenged man to an upper-crust British woman. As Marcia and Claire freak out and try their own futile escapes, Casey manages to manipulate his mind and gather clues that might save her life.

SPLIT is smartly written by Shyamalan and expertly acted by James McAvoy playing the kidnapper and Anna Taylor-Joy playing the teenage heroine, Casey. Yet, it’s also deeply unpleasant until the surprising, exciting finish. It’s hard to call a movie centered on the endangerment of young women a crowd-pleaser. In addition to the plot about multiple personalities, SPLIT has references to implied cannibalism and past child abuse. There’s very little foul language, however. Even so, SPLIT needs stronger moral, redemptive elements. MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.


(B, Ro, Pa, L, VV, S, N, A, M) Light moral worldview in story about a teenage girl having to fight for her life against a crazy psychopath, who’s been coddled a bit by his psychiatrist, who has a Romantic view of his condition, but, beyond this, nothing else is particularly moral or redemptive and some pagan ontological nominalism where the movie suggests the mind can physically change a person; four obscenities (including one “f” word) and one strong profanity; strong scary violence includes implied abuse, teenagers kidnapped and held against their will, man grabs an old woman from behind so strongly that he crushes her spine and kills her, it’s implied man has murdered two teenage girls and is cannibalizing their corpses, one corpse is seen lying dead and bloody for a split second, another moment man baring his teeth and preparing to bite down, man’s face has blood on it in one scene, several frightening moments where the man flexes his muscles in terrifying fashion while transforming psychologically into an evil superhuman being he calls “The Beast,” girl points shotgun at her abusive uncle, teenage girl has scar marks on her belly from cutting herself in self-abuse to cope with trauma of child abuse by her uncle, some blood when teenage girl shoots villain; no depicted sexual content but it’s implied girl was abused by her uncle, kidnapper makes the girls strip down to their bra and panties and makes them scared to think he will abuse or rape them, and it is mentioned that one of troubled villain’s personalities likes to watch girls dance naked, but no dancing is shown; upper male nudity, and girls are forced to strip to their underwear, but nothing else happens; a bar scene shows some alcohol use; no smoking or illegal drugs, but villain sprays something into teenage girls’ faces to knock them out; and, kidnapping, kidnapped teenagers are imprisoned against their will, and villain deceives people.

More Detail:

SPLIT is a scary psychological thriller about a teenage girl, who has to fight for her life using psychological tactics after a man with multiple personalities kidnaps her and two friends. SPLIT is smartly written by M. Night Shyamalan and expertly acted by James McAvoy as the kidnapper and by Anna Taylor-Joy as the teenage heroine. SPLIT has very little foul language, but the scares and intense subject matter, which includes implied cannibalism and child abuse, warrant extreme caution.

The movie opens with three teenage girls, Casey (Anna Taylor-Joy), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), as they wait in a car for one of their fathers outside a shopping mall. Instead of the dad showing up, a creepy stranger (McAvoy) slides behind the wheel, dons a mask to cover his face and mouth, and knocks all three girls out with a spray.

They awaken in a creepy underground lair and soon realize their kidnapper has a seemingly never-ending change of personalities, ranging from a mentally challenged man named Hedwig to an upper-crust British woman named Patricia. As Marcia and Claire freak out and attempt their own futile escapes, Casey manages to know how to manipulate his mind and gather clues that might add up to saving her life.

The reason that Casey is better prepared than her friends stems from her creepy childhood, in which a sleazy uncle tricked her into being sexually abused as a young girl. Shyamalan unspools the revelations masterfully through a string of partial flashbacks to a long-ago hunting trip, but his tasteful restraint here also still might leave viewers with the queasy uncertainty of whether it’s justified to create a thriller out of such a tragic topic.

Adding an extra level of intrigue is the presence of Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), the kidnapper’s psychiatrist, who believes that people with multiple personalities might hold the key to discovering the untapped possibilities of the human mind. A third story thread (which alternates between the intense battle of wills between Casey and the kidnapper and Casey’s childhood flashbacks) involves some bizarre therapy sessions that the man’s various personas keep emailing to request.

Ultimately, Fletcher and Casey each come to realize that the true thing to fear about him isn’t the 23 personalities they already know, rather the brewing 24th identity he calls “The Beast” that combines all his other traits together into a mindset of overarching, near-superhuman evil. Eventually, they must beat the clock before “The Beast” announces his presence for good.

That five-paragraph description, which leaves plenty more to be experienced, is an example of how complex the story in “Split” is. It’s a fascinating tale and will likely keep viewers on the edge of their seats throughout, but it still feels like Shyamalan is using the tragedies of child abuse, sexual abuse and psychological trauma to achieve those thrills, and it’s a valid question to wonder whether this movie is exploitative, as a result.

SPLIT is smartly written and expertly acted by James McAvoy as the kidnapper who displays eight personas during the movie, and Anna Taylor-Joy as Casey, the girl who is the sharpest at fighting back. Yet, it’s also deeply unpleasant for much of its running time, as it’s hard to call a movie centered on the endangerment of young women a crowd-pleaser. Of course, that sometimes works, but, in this case, it feels like the movie isn’t walking the line just right.

Shyamalan has the class to keep the threats to the teenage girls largely psychological, with most of the actual violence shown in brief shocking glimpses or implied off screen. Nonetheless, it’s more unsettling than truly entertaining until the last few series of surprising twist endings.

SPLIT is also a movie that points out the shaky moral sense of the MPAA ratings board, which gave the movie a PG-13 rating because SPLIT has hardly any foul language and much of the violence is off-screen or barely shown, leaving the worst horrors to the viewer’s imaginations. However, its relentless sense of dread and the scenarios depicted should not risk being seen by children at all, and possibly even most teenagers. So, it’s probably a good idea for anyone who’s ever suffered from severe abuse to avoid seeing SPLIT.

To be fair, the movie’s final 10 minutes deliver a powerful coda to the movie, as viewers finally come to learn where the girls have been held captive, and as two final plot twists occur. The movie’s last line in particular is a stunner that sets up a possibly highly intriguing follow-up for Shyamalan.

Overall, SPLIT is a brilliantly made psychological thriller with some touching moments as it deals with the main girl finding strength after a lifetime of implied abuse. Despite the teenage heroine, though, SPLIT is absolutely for adults only, and those who can handle intense, scary, psychologically disturbing subject matter. It also suggests the mind can physically change a person. So, there’s an aspect of ontological nominalism to the movie, which may come from Shyamalan’s Hindu background.

MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.