Scary Psychological Thriller
Release Date: January 20, 2017
Starring: James McAvoy, Anna Taylor-Joy,
Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula,
Haley Lu Richardson, Brad
William Henke, Sebastian
Audience: Teenagers and adults
Runtime: 117 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures/Comcast
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Executive Producer: Kevin Scott Frakes, Ashwin
Rajan, Steven Schneider
Producer: Marc Bienstock, Jason Blum, M.
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Address Comments To:Brian L. Roberts, Chairman/CEO/President, Comcast Corp.
Stephen Burke, CEO, NBC Universal (a subsidiary of Comcast)
Jeff Shell, Chairman, and Ron Meyer, President/COO, Universal Studios
Diana Langley, Chairman, Universal Pictures
100 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, CA 91608-1085
Phone: (818) 777-1000; Web Page: www.universalstudios.com
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.
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.