Night Shyamalan returns with the claustrophobic
atmosphere of basements and bunkers that provided the horror trope for films
like Room and 10, Cloverfield Lane. Add to it Shyamalan’s specialty of mental quirks
and you can sit on the edge of your seat and wonder what’s going to happen to
three teenage girls who’re kidnapped by a highly disturbed Kevin. Or Dennis. Or
Patricia. Or whatever you want to call someone with a disorder that has 23
personalities going in and out of him. Worse, there’s a 24th called
The Beast that’s tougher, taller, beefier and meaner that’s lurking inside him,
waiting to be unleashed.
Termed Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID, the
unhinged hero does try to get psychiatric help when one of his more benign
personalities has sessions with Dr Fletcher. That’s about the only time
Shyamalan takes the camera out of the basement and into the sunlight until Dr
Fletcher too, with complete cinematic license, strays inexplicably alone into
her patient’s den.
Of the three kidnapped girls who look for ways to
escape their lunatic captor, Casey is the only one who has a reference point.
There are parallel scenes of abuse in her childhood just like Kevin who’s
become what he has because of extreme abuse by his mother.
Childhood trauma and maniacal adulthood make for a
scary thriller and Kevin, with his 23 other personalities coming in and out for
a turn in the spotlight, puts the fear of ‘what next’ into his three captives.
I won’t spoil it by revealing what happens at the end
but Shyamalan’s favourite actor Bruce Willis pops up unexpectedly. He stokes
memories of Unbreakable, his last
outing with the filmmaker, and leaves with an unspoken promise that they’ll be
That works well for Split, the film, as an ending though it does take the shine away
from lead actor James McAvoy just a little bit. Playing myriad characters
inside one body would be a joy for any actor and McAvoy revels in it with more
changes in his body language than in actual costume. Anya Taylor-Joy with her
wise, wide eyes, has several levels of fear and compromise to convey as Casey.
For a film that’ll delight Night
Shyamalan fans as he’s back in peak form, Split
gets a 3.5* rating.
Bharathi S Pradhan
Senior Journalist & Author