Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) has been invited to a friend's birthday party, well, you say friend but the truth is she does not really have any friends, and was only invited because she was part of the art class birthday girl Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) attends. Once the festivities are over, the girls have all been taken home by their parents, except for Casey that is, and Claire's father offers to give her a lift home along with Claire's pal Marcia (Jessica Sula). She seems reluctant, but cannot refuse, so they walk over from the restaurant to the car and the girls sit inside while dad loads up the back of the vehicle with the gifts. Or at least that was the plan, for the man who sits in the driver's seat does not look familiar at all...
Director M. Night Shyamalan had been through a rough patch critically and with audiences before he made Split, which had seen films such as The Happening making him a laughing stock, but then he dropped The Visit on the world's cinemas, a low budget effort that seemed to recharge his creative batteries. Not everyone liked it, true, but it made those audiences more interested in what he was cooking up, and the answer to that was this dissociative personality disorder mix of psychological thriller and horror flick. Again, not everyone was keen on this either, but it did really rather well, and proved he could generate big profits from a low budget work that got by largely on the strength of his name.
There was a twist here, but not one viewers who had followed his projects would have anticipated for it was informed by something he had completed before which was not even one of his best-loved hits, more of a cult movie he had made when at the first flush of success. To say more would be to give the game away, which once the sequel was announced was given away anyway, but it was accurate to observe the revelation was both the making and undoing of what was a strange little tale that might have been more satisfying as a standalone yarn, yet also made one anticipate what Shyamalan had in mind for a follow-up. At its heart was a virtuoso performance from James McAvoy who essayed the man afflicted with that fractured personality.
Now, it should be noted this was in no way, shape or form a serious movie about mental illness, and should not be approached in that manner, as its understanding of the condition it depicted was like something out of a comic book rather than a psychology textbook. In that respect Split was far from The Three Faces of Eve and closer to the Brian De Palma thriller Raising Cain, not a hit from that filmmaker, but one which contrives to stick in the memories of all who did see it thanks to a downright bizarre premise that Shyamalan lifted for this, the idea that a split personality (to use the slangy parlance) could make one a criminal mastermind. Yet here it was taken further, into the realms of delirium that had the proceedings resembling a self-parody, and might even prompt unintended giggles.
Not that it was absurd in every scene, as once the afflicted gentleman had kidnapped the three teens, he reveals himself to them and us as a very sick person, in therapy with psychiatrist Betty Buckley (whose screen debut was in a De Palma movie) who keeps getting cries for help from one of her patient's personalities via e-mail, yet when he shows up to the sessions he blethers about inconsequentialities, and gives no hint to her that one of the other personalities may have been up to no good. Meanwhile the three girls are plotting their escape, except their captor seems to have an answer to everything, leaving them trapped by his madness and forced to put up with his whims and mental torture that may turn physical. There was a theme about surviving child abuse here, the kidnapper certainly had not survived it with sanity intact, but Casey, who acts weird because of her abusive relative, just might be able to apply her experience to make her stronger. That was the serious bit - the old cliché about the potential victims losing their clothes had a point for a change - and it jarred with what was frankly a very silly and somewhat unpleasant tale: but it did hold the attention, and McAvoy's dedication was the key to that. Music by West Dylan Thordson.
Indian-born, American-raised writer and director, whose forte is taking cliched fantasy stories and reinventing them with low-key treatment, usually with a child at the heart of them. After gentle comedy Wide Awake, he hit the big time with supernatural drama The Sixth Sense. Superhero tale Unbreakable was also successful, as was the religious alien invasion parable Signs. Shyamalan's mystery drama The Village was seen as ploughing the same furrow for too long by some, and his fantasies Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth (which he didn't conceive the plot for) were met with near-universal derision. On a lower budget, he made The Visit, which was cautiously received as a partial return to form, and Split, which was his biggest hit in some time. He also co-wrote Stuart Little.