Miss Patricia, Dennis, Barry, and Hedwig; These are just a few of the characters portrayed by James McAvoy in the latest thriller from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. And the actor delivers an incredible performance as a man suffering through DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and revealing a number of different characteristics with each separate character. Officially, DID is considered an unproven condition- more an extension of a defensive mechanism for schizophrenics who have encountered traumatic events in their lives. The film, however, stands on the conceit of the condition as a separate thing with some strong research to back it up- but it’s really McAvoy’s performance that conveys the urgency of what each character represents to the needs of the “host” body. Dennis protects with an urgent need for cleanliness and order, Miss Patricia provides the matronly comfort and devotion to an unspecified “faith” complete with quotations, while Hedwig remains an innocent child far from the responsibility of adulthood. Each other character receives some degree of purpose, but the film primarily centers around those three, and collectively the personalities often refer to themselves as “The Horde”.
And things spiral out of control when “Dennis” commits to an action that finds him kidnapping three teenage girls and keeping them in a cellar. The girls are to be fed to a “Beast” in the manner of a sacred meal. Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), the archetypical loner, engages McAvoy in a dangerous game of cat and mouse when she attempts to persuade Hedwig to help her in escaping. But the clock is ticking because the Beast is on the move. Casey’s character is riddled with a history we get a glimpses of through flashback, where a fateful hunting trip with her father and uncle leads to revelations.
M. Night Shyamalan has seen his share of success and failure in recent years. After his huge success in “The 6th Sense”, Shyamalan followed up with “Unbreakable” and then signed with Disney for a multi-film deal that brought us “The Village” and “Signs”. Often relying on a sudden twist near the end of the story, Shyamalan’s films are often metaphorical explorations of grief, loss, and purpose. I’m not a huge fan of the director’s work, but I do recognize the ability of the man to craft a good film. This movie seems to be a very personal exploration of his own recent failings and a stripping down of the frills the director is often criticized for. He plays on the audiences expectations.
For the second horror film of the year, Split gives us a pretty good chiller and introduces an engaging antagonist in the several divided personalities of The Horde. Stay past the initial credits for a small stinger at the end which will be sure to thrill many Shyamalan fans.
7.5 out of 10 and a must see for 2017.
I am aware of some controversy surrounding the film and its depiction of mental illness and transgenderism- speaking from a place where I have no personal perspective of life as a transgender, I’m not going to tell people whether they should be offended or not. Instead, I will speak to my opinion and my reading of the film itself: The film does not accurately reflect the life choices or personality traits of those who are transgender nor those who may suffer from DID. This is a speculative work of fiction that utilizes a mental illness to portray the divided personalities that reside within the body of a man who has suffered many traumatic events. It reflects the strength he receives and the twisted means in which he learns to cope with those events in his life. They are representations of IDEALS which the hosts subconscious feels will keep him safe from harm.