It’s been three days since I saw Split and I still don’t know how I feel about the movie. I don’t know if I liked it. I don’t know if it’s good. I don’t even know what to tell you. Once again M. Night Shyamalan has defied expectations and crafted a twist no one could see coming. Or at least no one could seriously saw it coming. But does that make a good movie? How are you supposed to feel about a film that seems like it has its own special story and universe and energy and then suddenly it’s revealed that it was always a build up to something else? I don’t really know.
So I’m going to start with the basics, Split follows a man named Kevin (James Mcavoy) who has over 20 different split personalities living in his brain. His main personality, Barry, is a charming and extroverted fashion designer, but personalities range from an older man who is obsessed with history, to a 9 year old boy who loves Kanye West. Two of Kevin’s personalities – Dennis, a gruff neat freak, and Ms. Patricia, a devoted school marm type – have teamed up to overthrow Barry and take control of Kevin’s actions. Together, they capture three girls and hide them in a bunker in preparation for Kevin’s newest personality, who they call The Beast.
It sounds very silly when I explain it like that, but trust me when I say that Shyamalan has the thriller aspects of this movie on lockdown. Split is much more gruesome and upsetting and tense than you think it is going to be. I’d seen the trailer plenty of times and I was ready for a spooky, scary, and deeply weird romp a la The Visit. I was not ready for the emotional rollercoaster ride that Mcavoy’s performance would elicit, nor was I prepared for sexual assault to be such a prevalent theme. At times, the constant shift in tone, from incredibly tense to down right silly, was exhausting, but it also highlights the bonkers, off-the-wall insanity that was Mcavoy’s acting.
I know I kicked this off saying I have no idea how I feel about Split, but there are two things I can promise are 100% good. The first, as I said earlier, is the intensity that Shyamalan packed into this film, and the second is every single scene of Mcavoy’s performance. He nails every single personality and the way he can rapid fire switch between them is a sight to behold. He can go from cracking jokes, to being as menacing as you possibly imagine, and then right back to fun again, which easily kicks the intensity and thrill up another level. Considering it’s a movie with a very silly plot, McAvoy manages to make what’s happening feel believable. On the other hand, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), the main girl he captures, brings little to her roll. It’s a far cry from the presence of her previous characters in Morgan and The Witch.
What it really boils down to, is that it’s hard for me to truly explain what is happening with this movie without spoiling the ending for all of you. Because as much as I enjoyed the ending when it was happening, I think it ruins the movie. It’s a fun idea. It’s a good twist, but to me, it makes everything that happened before it feel unnecessary. It made the movie feel more like a joke with a punchline than a fully realized story, and it’s a shame. I really wanted to like this, and some I think I do. But most of the time, I still have no idea what to make of it.