Kevin (James McAvoy) has such a severe case of dissociative identity disorder, that he spends his days contending for the 'limelight' with 22 other personalities. But while some of his different dispositions are rather friendly, such as fashion fanatic Barry, diabetic Jade and philosophy enthusiast Orwell, there are a few that want control over Kevin in order to show the world just "how powerful they can be".
Worried that the darker occupants of his psyche are starting to influence Kevin in a negative way, his therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) takes it upon herself to investigate his behaviour and recent endeavours. But little does she know, a few of Kevin's alternate personalities have kidnapped three high school girls in the hope that they can carry out a ritual that will unleash his most dangerous personality yet, the beast.
The last 12 months have turned out a few fantastically tense thrillers in the form of 10 Cloverfield Lane, Green Room and Don't Breathe. Despite having completely different plots, the trio all centre around their main characters trying to escape from somewhere pretty undesirable and for that reason, Split resembles all three. But when put against the already-existing acclaimed movies, how does The Sixth Sense director M Night Shyamalan's latest fare?
Relatively well it turns out and commendably so too, given the fact that it features significantly less violence than the aforementioned films. However, while there are one or two effectively squirm-worthy moments, Split is arguably Shyamalan's least creepy outing to date, delivering more of a focused puzzle that manages to keep you engaged thanks to an incredibly strong performance from lead, McAvoy.
Kevin has 24 personalities in total, but fortunately for McAvoy he's charged with portraying a much more achievable six throughout the whole film. Some only feature briefly too, mostly in video diaries that offer the audience a quick look at what other personalities Kevin has. Three, however, appear frequently; angry, obsessively-clean Dennis, uptight and sneaky Patricia and inquisitive nine-year-old Hedwig, and McAvoy seems to have no trouble embodying each of their different outlooks, physicality, costumes and accents at the drop of a hat.
The film centres so heavily on McAvoy in fact that Split could essentially act as a sizzle reel for the Scottish actor years after this film leaves cinemas. One thing's for certain... it would get him plenty of work. With a shaved head and no props, he convinces you that his character believes in these personalities and it must have taken some doing. He absolutely devours the screen every time he's in frame, and what upclose, bold and beautiful frames they are too...
But because the focus is on him is so heavy, Split ends up being much more of a character study drama rather than a shock-fest. Seeing the events play out mostly through Kevin's perspective rather than the female victims he holds captive also causes the film's thrill factor to be lost along the way too.
There could be just reason for that after all though. While some of his personalities act in monstrous and morally questionable ways, asking the girls to take off their clothes whenever they feel like it or locking them up in isolation if they step out of line, there are moments where we see glimpses of Kevin's more compassionate personas. While he is essentially the villain of the piece, it's clear that Shyamalan wanted for us to empathise with him too, and opting to make him seem human rather than a terrifying abductor (from the girls' point of view), we can to a certain extent.
With McAvoy commanding both script and screen, there's not much time left for supporting characters but unlike the other two young women, who are pretty much sidelined as soon as they're taken down to Kevin's bunker, Anya Taylor-Joy gets a few moments to shine. She plays outsider Casey, whose somewhat unconventional hunting-trip-filled upbringing results in her being far from a damsel-in-distress. She's certainly an interesting character and the film even manages to weave in some flashbacks to give her a bit more context. But this isn't her movie at the end of the day, and sadly for fans of The Witch, it's pretty obvious from the start.
Ironically, Split is just one of those movies that won't please everyone and will likely divide opinion. Hardcore Shyamalan fans might be after something more unhinged, while others will be grateful that he shelved his trademark of having the rug pulled out from under you during the final act.
While it might be his least twist-filled outing yet, Shyamalan still makes sure that Split has its own kind of 'shocker' right at the end that is sure to make some viewers sit up a little higher in their seats however. Not everyone will get it and it is a questionable decision to leave a movie hanging with what is essentially an in-joke, but those who do get it will be satisfied nonetheless. So much so in fact, that they might completely forget the 116 minutes that came before it. Perhaps that was Shyamalan's plan all along...