In M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, “Split,” James McAvoy steps into the world of psychosis as he portrays a man with severe dissociative identity disorder, struggling and failing to manage a normal life. Living with the burden and confusion of having 23 distinct personalities, McAvoy plays the character of Kevin Wendell Crumb, who is prone to eccentric displays of insanity. In one particularly extreme instance of lunacy, one of Kevin’s alternate personalities, Dennis, decides to kidnap three girls purely for his own enjoyment and, evidently, for the pleasure of something frighteningly sinister.
As viewers watch the prisoners plan their escape, Kevin’s personalities allude to the possibility that another personality will emerge, one that will come solely for the sake of killing the young girls. Later in the film, viewers realize what implications these changes in his personality have on others. With a small degree of enthusiasm and a lack of impetus, Shyamalan’s story has a bark that is much worse than its bite. It leaves the viewer wondering where his visions for an exciting psychological thriller went wrong. Perhaps the film’s incomplete tone is to blame for its overall lack of substance, as the story’s direction becomes less precise as it progresses. Loose ends seem to run in steady supply throughout the story, and the inconclusiveness leaves viewers detached from the characters.
Overall, the movie has a weak assemblage of supporting roles, other than a praiseworthy performance by Anya Taylor-Joy as the intuitive Casey, one of Kevin’s captives who handles her imprisonment with relative poise. Otherwise, the lackluster supporting roles make McAvoy’s keen performance stand out. Although McAvoy portrays each of Kevin’s personalities with shocking fluidity and vigor that is certainly entertaining, a more complete explanation of his character’s mental mania seems to have been disregarded in the writing process.
Like the story itself, Kevin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, portrayed by Betty Buckley, frustratingly evades any attempt to get at the heart of Kevin’s disorder or envision ways to control his personalities. Instead, we see one of Kevin’s personalities, “Barry,” make visits to Dr. Fletcher, who takes far too long to determine that Kevin’s condition has taken a turn for the worse. As “Barry” continues making unscheduled psychiatry visits, Dr. Fletcher determines that a separate personality named “Dennis” may be acting as Kevin’s typical persona. It is also at this time that the psychiatrist finally starts to consider the reality of “The Beast.” It becomes evident that this latest addition to Kevin’s personalities has come to carry out vengeance on the “impure,” or those who have never experienced suffering in their lives.
Coincidentally, once “The Beast” comes to life after Kevin undergoes a drastic physical transformation on a train car, a place that evokes memories of his absent father, we see the extent of his deadly motives. While fate refuses to lend a kind hand to two of Kevin’s prisoners,Claire and Marcia—poorly portrayed by Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula — Casey’s future seems intrinsically tied to her painful past.
If viewers are to derive any meaning from the film, it comes from the mo- ment when “The Beast” turns his focus on Casey. After noticing evidence of self- harm on the girl’s arms and stomach, he revokes his deadly plan, declaring that Casey is pure and “more evolved” than the others. In this instance, “The Beast” expresses his intention to cleanse the world of the mentally stable, offering an interesting twist to a psychological conundrum. Shyamalan has delivered a fresh perspective on mental disturbance, forcing viewers to reconsider society’s scrutiny toward those whose minds are more complex than the rest.
But when viewed as a psychological account of the deadly implications of an intense mental disorder, “Split” falls short of granting viewers a taste of realistic and earth-shattering suspense. After only being afforded such unrealistic images as “The Beast,”, viewers will walk away from this film hungry for a narrative more substantial and insightful.
The film certainly displays Shyamalan’s recurring interest in psychological expression, yet it pales in comparison to his critically acclaimed and award-winning masterpiece, “The Sixth Sense,” because it lacks a credible depiction of the human mind. The story doesn’t delve deep enough into the implications of mental illness to resonate with audience members long after the movie has ended. In truth, it seems that Shyamalan’s days of making riveting alien invasion flicks and raw, supernatural terror films are over, and his fans are forced to settle for rushed, unappealing storytelling.