Yes, it’s terrific. We have a new Hannibal. Extraordinary performance by McAvoy. It’s his next franchise. Will the next 10 years going to be all about Shyamalan all the time? Does he remember his last films with shame like we do?
Does multiple personality disorder really exist? It’s now called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Wouldn’t it be great if for a few months out of the year you could leave your life and live as an alternative personality, an “alter”? It’s far off but it will be possible. Why have just one life? The great Andy Kaufman would often appear as offensive, foul-mouthed lounge singer Tony Clifton. Kaufman would claim Clifton was a real person.
Kenneth Bianchi, a.k.a. “The Hillside Strangler”, claimed to have multiple-personality disorder and said he had no memory of the murders because they were committed by one of his “alters.”
Multiple Personality Disorders fascinate us.* Has there ever been a case where someone’s “alter” spoke Russian? Or was a math genius? Or a 16th century peasant farmer? Why are the “alters” just different parts of a person long left behind? Why can’t I be a petulant nine-year old sometimes? Or a strict, moralist disciplinarian occasionally? How about having an “alter” who is sexually uninhabited?
As casual as an afternoon in a mall restaurant celebrating a birthday, Claire’s (Haley Lu Richardson) father insists she and her best friend, Marcia (Jessica Sula), offer a ride home to the least popular girl in their class, taciturn outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). They are promptly kidnapped by a man (James McAvoy) and wake up in a secluded, bare room. The girls are terrified. Dennis (James McAvoy) comes to explain a few things to them. He will not hurt them.
Over the course of their confinement they meet several of Kevin’s (McAvoy) alters: Patricia, nine-year-old Hedwig, Barry, Orwell and Jade. With 23 alters living and fighting for time, we only meet 5.
Unlike other cinematic captives, these girls, especially Claire, try different ways to escape. Only Casey remains calm and decides against a group attack.
Meanwhile, alter Barry goes to his regular therapist session with Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who is not only an advocate, but a strong believer. The way Shyamalan sets up these encounters, we are terrified for the doctor. She is a very smart champion, constantly trying to evoke more information about the alters living inside of Kevin. She is Kevin’s substitute mother. She is their perfect mother who recognizes the brilliance of all the alters.
Why is Casey so subdued? Flashbacks show that Casey had experienced trauma in her childhood. And, extreme trauma is what brings about DID. These girls are not stupid. They quit screaming and decide various ways to get free. It is Casey who thinks it is best to engage the most vulnerable alter to aid them escape.
The story takes a turn when Hedwig informs the girls that The Beast is coming.
This is McAvoy’s movie and he is astonishing. Every “alter” is distinctive. There is a wonderful scene when Hedwig in his room. SPLIT could have been a disaster and just silly but McAvoy must have sensed something in the screenplay, also by Shyamalan, that he could work with. Buckley has an equally difficult role, she is sympathetic and is the one giving us the dreaded but necessary exposition.
And the denouement?
Terrific. Very satisfying.
Recalling Shyamalan past history, I expect we will see much more from him. Only patience will tell if he now understands the ingredients of a thriller, since Shyamalan has indeed made a terrific comeback.
*The most influential case of Multiple Personality Disorder was the case of “Sybil”. The book, Sybil The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality by Flora Rheta Schreiber came out in 1973 and became a best-seller and “manufactured” a psychiatric phenomenon. The book was billed as the true story of a woman who suffered from multiple personality disorder. Within a few years of its publication, reported cases of multiple personality disorder — now known as dissociative identity disorder — leapt from fewer than 100 to thousands. In June 2012, Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan argued that most of the story is based on a lie.
Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.
Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at firstname.lastname@example.org.