Split (M. Night Shyamalan, 2016): USA

Reviewed by Katrina Storton. Viewed at AFI Film Festival 2016.

Split (2016) is the newest horror/thriller film from M. Night Shyamalan. M. Night is known for delving into supernatural themes, exploring the human psyche/mental disorders and physical limits. His most well-known films are iconic in their genres such as The Sixth Sense (1999), Signs (2002), The Village (2004) and Unbreakable (2000), yet they all have a hit or miss reputation with critics mainly due to his films having unconventional endings.

Split follows M. Night’s recent curiosity into mental disorders (The Visit explores mental conditions of the elderly, more specifically a form of dementia called sundown syndrome). Split is perfectly named as the film explores a man named Kevin who suffers from a dissociative identity disorder. 23 personalities inhabit his body all varying in age, gender, interests and even medical conditions (such as one has diabetes where the others don’t).

The main plot of the film follows Kevin and his battle with his personalities. The film starts while Kevin is under the personality of an OCD perfectionist who kidnaps 3 teenage girls and brings them to an underground industrial tunnel turned living space. The girls are held hostage in preparation for “the beast” who is a forthcoming 24th personality. During captivity the girls are faced with 3 of Kevin’s main personalities, trying to understand what they’re up against and who precisely they’re up against.

Night Shyamalan creates a fantastic atmosphere as the tunnels the girls are kept in are cramped and narrow. The lights are either dim hanging bulbs or bright florescent lights. The camera angles are very up tight, filled with slow zooms, point of view shots, wide angles, running/panning shots, tilted at awkward angles or uncomfortably distant as though the camera is hidden. The dark dreary underground setting adds to the stress and anxiety of the film, dialog and plot heavy moments are slow and drawn out while the action sequences are fast paced and stressful. High strung music or moments of complete silence contribute to the mood of the film along with sound effects that will make you cringe and squirm in your seat. M. Night splashes in some perfectly timed comedy as well and some moments to brighten the overall mood of the film.

Split covers a lot of very heavy topics such as abuse, molestation, mental breaks, murder, family loss, and death. Split also covers the curiosity of dissociative identity disorder which is a real disorder many people have. The disorder in the film is analyzed in the context of how the body chemistry works, how different personalities can change eye color, strength, taste buds, and how far the limits of the body can be pushed. Other films have covered this same disorder such as The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Sybil (1976 and 2007), Fight Club (1999), Secret Window (2009), and Frankie and Alice (2010). Every one of these films have attempted to explain the mystery behind this disorder, some taking from true stories, others fiction. Split stands out from these films in that M. Night brilliantly chose James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse, X-Men: First Class, Penelope and The Chronicles of Narina), a classically trained actor, to be his main character. McAvoy’s performance of Kevin is an Oscar winning performance especially in one particular scene when all 23 personalities are fighting to be the present one. McAvoy has every personality down to a science and he flips through them with ease like he truly has the disorder. You’ll be able to tell by his facial features alone, which personality is currently inhibiting his body.

Cast and crew of Split at the AFI Film Festival. Cast and crew of Split at the AFI Film Festival.

I highly suggest seeing this film once in theatres January 20, 2017 as it will be one of the best horror films of the year. Brilliant, stressful, cringy, and original. I also highly suggest watching M. Night’s film Unbreakable (2000) beforehand, as it briefly covers dissociative identity disorder and will clue you in on a portion of the film. This is a film for the psychological horror lover, those who love re-watching films and those who love horror based on real events/people/issues.

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