Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable), this psychological thriller launches straight into the action with the kidnap of three teenage girls. Imprisoned in a dingy basement, they encounter their captor, Kevin (James McAvoy), and, one by one, meet several of his 23 personalities. The girls grapple to escape, whilst complex interactions between Kevin’s personalities unfold. Meanwhile, Kevin meets his devoted psychiatrist, specialist in Dissociated Personality Disorder, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), assuring her that he is not splintering into pieces.
The draw of Split is in the concept of Kevin’s multiple personalities, therefore, the success of the film inevitably depends on McAvoy’s ability to pull off the numerous roles. Although we see glimpses of Kevin’s 23 personalities, there are four main characters who ‘take the light’: Barry, a flamboyant fashion designer; Dennis, a stern and meticulous OCD sufferer; Patricia, a smug, well-spoken English lady, and Hedwig, a lisping and curious nine-year-old.
Taking the opportunity to show the full range of his talent, McAvoy deftly transitions between personalities, aptly portraying each character’s distinct demeanour with subtle mannerisms. Despite my reservations about overpraising an actor for being able to play several roles, McAvoy proves he is more than capable; each character is believable in their own right. With entertaining portrayals, particularly in Patricia and Hedwig, he is even able to bring comic relief to break up the pervading tension. A standout scene is one in which the disciplined and blunt Dennis charades as his easy-going and extroverted counterpart, Barry, in order to deceive the concerned psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher. The tension and complexity of this scene was particularly impressive.
As with any film where the premise is central, it must prove to be durable throughout the full feature. Unfortunately, the concept of Split does not lay a strong enough foundation on which to build an entire film. Despite an engaging first half, the limits of the initial premise become strained, and the story collapses into a formulaic horror film. The disappointment of wasted potential is compounded by the frustration at the ludicrous climax.
Overall, an intriguing concept and a standout performance by McAvoy is let down by a lack of imagination in its execution.
Image: Youtube, Universal Pictures