I'm not sure any level of research could qualify me to determine the right side of the fence following the controversy surrounding Split. I'm not a psychiatrist and I'm not experiencing any significant mental illnesses that I am aware of. But, without meaning to sound insensitive or ignorant, I didn't feel any level or prejudice to be prominently communicated in the film. I felt a disconnect between reality and fiction at moments in the film. When the film was seemingly communicating or conveying facts in regards to dissociative identity disorder or similar mental illnesses, it felt like it was communicating them in a respectful and connective way. But any time there was a bridge to the fictional side of James McAvoy's character, there was an apparent disconnect from reality and became something else...as the "twist" at the end of the film reveals.
I preface this review with that to essentially say two things: 1) I don't feel the film was disparaging to the mentally disabled, mentally ill, or mentally disturbed in any purposeful manner. This film balanced between explaining the situation in psychiatric methods and terms, and a fictional character not based in reality. 2) I am, again, not qualified to fully speak on such matters and sincerely apologize to those who were offended by the film in some fashion. From the ordinary viewer, I took nothing from the film that affected my perspective on the mentally disabled, and I hope it doesn't have any negative effects on anyone who watches it.
Split follows Kevin, a man with dissociative identity disorder, who kidnaps three young women and holds them captive in an underground labyrinth riddled with rooms and pipes. As the girls attempt to assess and escape their situation, Kevin's distinct personalities make themselves known, further deepening their understanding of their potential peril and Kevin's expansive motivations. Some of Kevin's personalities reveal the coming of an additional personality that will be his "perfection". It's potential omen as the girls' doom leads to a race against time to escape their fate at the hands of the final personality.
There are two major takeaways from this film from a qualitative perspective; James McAvoy's unbelievable performance and M. Night Shyamalan's career revival. Let's start with McAvoy. McAvoy plays the character of Kevin the film. McAvoy jumps from personality to personality in such a flawless and seamless fashion that it is nothing short of Oscar-worthy. He delivers one of the best performances in horror, dare I say, of all time. He is equal parts terrifying, unsettling, hilarious, light, dark, moody, and mysterious, depending on the personality he is distinctly exhibiting. There were times where I felt like I was in the film and believing that McAvoy had become this personality, as its own entity. It was equally enchanting and haunting.
Shyamalan has been quietly making a comeback in the genre he helped influence since the turn of the century. He has never been afraid to express is own creative vision on screen, and to show originality at the expense of viewers' expectations. I am one who would blame the marketing teams for the failures of films like The Village and Lady in the Water. They were improperly communicated what exactly they were, and everyone expected the same Shyamalan schtick. And while all Shyamalan films have his unique fingerprint, each one can be seen as distinctly and uniquely separate from one another. So some people wanted The Sixth Sense on repeat, and Shyamalan delivered something new and different and it was inevitably poorly received.
This excuse doesn't stand for all of his films. The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth are not good films. I was quick to say "hot garbage", considering he and Will Smith seemed to want to go down in flames together with the latter entry, but I think that a bit harsh...However, in between two of those films, Shyamalan wrote and produced the underrated horror flick Devil. Though he didn't direct, it had his atmosphere all over it, with those overly dry, hypnotic, and unusually transparent deliveries of some of his characters that are innate in all his films. Then he directed the surprisingly effective film The Visit. It had this blend of humor and horror that he had snippets of in some of his earlier and stronger works, but in The Visit it is taken to a heightened level that made it all the more entertaining. Then we got Split. And it is every bit as great as the films that defined the peak of his early career.
Shyamalan is clearly back on track, and Split is proof that his unique approach to filmmaking creates the occasional "dud", but his fearlessness to pursue his visions leads to fantastic films that breach traditional cinema. Split is the pinnacle of this concept, in a good way. Shyamalan is back and we are all excited for what comes next...
The twist spoiler for Split is all over the internet. It's hard to avoid at this point, but of course a Spoiler Tag is necessary this close to the release date.
I am hard-pressed to call it a twist...I don't think it directly fits the description of a twist, especially not in the context of Shyamalan movies. It does, in the sense that it breaks the story's seeming intent, but it does it in such a way that it doesn't technically rewrite any of the story. It's more accurately a stinger that just no one expected to be there. Yeah, that's right, a stinger...like something you see at the end of a superhero movie...Because that is essentially what is revealed at the end of Split...it is an origin story for Kevin as a supervillain to Bruce Willis' character in Unbreakable. One of the best superhero films ever, because it isn't traditional in the superhero genre at all, Unbreakable is responsible for one of Shyamalan's biggest cult followings, despite lackluster reviews and box office numbers. The internet has begun salivating over the possibility and potential of an Unbreakable sequel that pits Willis against McAvoy in a dark, dry, and unusual way that only Shyamalan can do. Despite the stinger, there has been no legitimate sequel planned or any intention from Shyamalan to make the film. He wants to, but he's leaving it to the creative whims on whether or not it happens...
But based on the success of Split, it is hard to imagine that this sequel doesn't happen...We all want to see it. We all need to see it. And hopefully, the whims that be can convince Shyamalan to do it and provide him the necessary muse to make it as amazing as the potentiality teases.
Horror Qualifier: 8/10
Horror Quality: 6/10
Film Quality: 8/10