Movie Review: Split (2017)

In Split, three girls are abducted by a man with 23 different personalities--make that 24 by the movie's end. James McAvoy is "Kevin Wendell Crumb" (and also "Dennis", "Mrs.Patricia", "Hedwig", "Barry", "Orwell", "Jade", and "the beast"). Mr. Crumb suffers from Disassociative Identity Disorder, or "Multipersonality Disorder" as it is sometimes called. He sees a shrink, "Dr. Karen Fletcher" (Betty Buckley) who, unlike the vast majority of the psychiatric community, believes that the condition is real.

And not only does she believe it is real, but that it is the beginning of a new stage in human evolution (this is the premise Shyamalan keeps coming back to all throughout the movie). Dr. Fletcher's evidence for believing these claims is discussed at length in the movie and introduced into various plot segments, suggesting, for instance, that some personalities are stronger physically, have different levels of cholesterol, and on and on the details go. M. Night Shyamalan's return to the big screen is not without a love for details, which the audience gets in spades!

When the girls (Jessica Sula, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Haley Lu Richardson) are abducted in broad daylight and subjected to initial hostility upon confinement, they are no little put off by their abductor with all of his personalities. The movie's story unfolds around the girls and their escape attempts and alternates to Dr. Fletcher's efforts to get inside the head of her favorite patient, Mr. Crumb. Crumb's increasingly unstable behavior comes to a head as the girls (and the doctor) are forced to make decisions that affect their very lives.

Most movies that hone in on multi personality disorder (like Primal Fear, 1995, or of course, Fight Club, 1999) choose not to deal with the fact that most experts don't recognize it as being legit. People are just too damn shifty and will retreat to faking insanity to beat a murder rap at trial. But Split delves right into the subject. Shyamalan really aims to give a nuanced finished product with suspense, intrigue, and an idea that viewers will be driving home talking about. But not even he can do it justice since, like a child in a highchair that jams too much food into its mouth, it's all just too much!

The movie wastes no time in getting things going. The breadcrumbs delivery of the details we need to come away with the completed story are where they need to be). And the entertainment value doesn't diminish--until right at the halfway point.

At that point, we become downright tired of McAvoy's point-scoring - and soon pointless - endeavors to display Crumb's personalities, and how they so subtly differ. After this mark, the movie gets progressively worse, steadily losing our interest until we get to the last fifteen minutes of the film. There, we are blown out of our seats with overkill drama that not only gives us too much to want to like, but we aren't even given closure. The movie ends with an unresolved component effecting our protagonist (Anya Taylor-Joy) who does a bangup job giving us a withdrawn (and likewise emotionally troubled) girl who can relate to her antagonist on some remote level. She is one reason the writing behind Split was so good.

The disappointing factor is that the movie had a number of other directions to go in, directions that would have preserved the coolness of the plot with the added (needed?) benefit of giving some meaning to the story beyond the theatrically bizarre fictitious sell it keeps falling back on.

Our fascination with psychos is dang-near unending…and enviable…because the crazies are mysterious, which means scary (and therefore, in some weird way, impressive). In a world crying out for attention, people are game for that sort of thing nowadays. But here's the thing; Split doesn't speak to it very much, surprisingly, because once we see the movie  basically just showing off its main character's ability to pull off the acting necessary to bring it to life and the "split personalities are the next level of humans" premise, we really don't care about anything else. It just gets old.

Yes, there is lots of suspense in Split, but it's pretty close to gone by 3/4ths of the way in. We quit caring soon enough. We have a story, and lots of details, but not that much wit. By the end, it all feels like an out-of-control indie film project with a really good idea.