Split ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
Split is an odd little horror film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. It’s about a seriously disturbed man (James McAvoy) with twenty-three personalities. He abducts three teenage girls (not for the usual reasons) by spraying them in the face with something that knocks them out and driving off with them. When they wake up, they find themselves locked in a place with no means of escape. They believe they will die, but that doesn’t keep them from hoping they will find a way out.
The odd thing about this man, the three girls soon discover, is that he is different people at different times. At one time, he’s Dennis, an authoritative man dressed in black; at other times, he’s Patricia, a lady who speaks in carefully modulated tones; and then he’s Hedwig, a boy of nine whom the girls try to finesse into letting them go before Dennis comes back. Hedwig talks like one of the Bowery Boys.
The disturbed man is being treated by a fashionable (and apparently very expensive, considering the surroundings) psychiatrist named Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley). He appears to Dr. Fletcher mostly as Barry, the fey fashion designer. When she tries to call forth any of the other personalities lurking behind Barry, he resists. When Dr. Fletcher is alone with him in her home/office, he seems menacing in an understated way. The music score adds to the feeling of menace we feel when Dr. Fletcher is alone with Barry. She, however, doesn’t seem to be the least bit afraid of him. She’s an expert on multiple-personality disorders, but even she seems to underestimate his capacity for evil. She doesn’t know, for example, that he has abducted those teenage girls and is holding them prisoner in his lair. (Just exactly what is his lair? We don’t know until the end of the movie.)
With all the man’s personalities, he talks about unleashing yet another one, the twenty-fourth, that will be worse than all the others. He calls this one the Beast. Dr. Fletcher takes a familial interest in her patients and truly wants to help. She goes to the man’s lair (she knows what and where it is before we do) and discovers the Beast in a most disadvantageous way (to her). She also discovers the abducted girls, or at least the one that remains. We are left wondering at this point what happened to the other two girls. One of them crawled through a hole in the ceiling, after which the man tells the other two girls they will never see their friend again. We assume, without knowing, that he caught her trying to get away and killed her.
Split is not overly violent or gory in the way that this kind of movie usually is. The bad man in this movie isn’t nearly as creepy or as twisted as, say, the killer in The Silence of the Lambs. He is more given to psychological terror than physical violence. The movie is engaging enough without being what we would call “entertaining” in the traditional sense. There’s a sense of suspense and unease, but it could have been a lot more effective if some of the missing gaps had been filled in. For example, how does the disturbed man come to be in the place where he hides the three teenage girls? Does he live there? How can he do what he does and not be seen or detected? Exactly what is his motivation for abducting the girls? We see right away that it’s not about sex, so what is it? He wants somebody to dance with him? That isn’t enough. The abduction of the girls just seems like a plot device that doesn’t play out.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp