Split is a messy patchwork of horror tropes, poor characterisations and dissatisfying plot
Perhaps I was naive to think that yet another psychological horror film could possibly avoid cheap, flat representations of mental health, but I did have high hopes for Split.
I thought, at worst, that it would portray the mentally ill in a poor light, using the sickness and misfortune of others for entertainment — something which I decided is a whole separate ethical debate — but accepted this as a general problem when making any film about a psychiatric patient.
Split had far more flaws than its portrayal of Dissociative Identity Disorder, however. There were points of the film which were very promising, and James McAvoy succeeded in every personality he portrayed. If anything, he was the glue that held Split together. Other parts were messy, inconsistent and downright bizarre. (Please note that this review contains significant spoilers from here onwards).
Split was problematic from the offset, with the three girls who were kidnapped falling all too heavily into infuriating stereotypes. The popular, pretty girls were dressed provocatively and sexualised. The other girl (and, ultimately, the survivor) was an outcast, quiet and strange, considered to be a bit weird by the others. This set-up felt like the start to any low-budget, poorly-written slasher film. Was it really necessary? No. Plus, Casey (the aforementioned outcast) came across as infuriatingly slow and pathetic rather than deep and intelligent.
A scene at the very beginning where she remains silent after noticing an intruder in the car, before attempting to escape in a painstaking, slo-mo shot of her grabbing the handle of the car door summarises how boring both her character and some of the scenes in the film were.
Possibly my main qualm with Split was its deviation from being a psychological thriller to a paranormal one. There was something genuinely interesting and very human in McAvoy’s depiction of the varying personalities. It was actually quite insightful and began to pose questions about representation for people who suffer from DID in the medical and scientific world.
For some reason, Shyamylam decided to completely deviate from this, turning Kevin (the patient) into a literal beast with superhuman powers. In the end, he was climbing up the walls, veins protruding from his torso, and Casey was unsuccessfully shooting at him from inside a cage. It felt like a horror parody, like a B-side that had used every trope and stereotype imaginable. Perhaps I missed some crucial element to the film but it for some reason ended in a zoo, where Casey’s (rapist) Uncle had come to collect her.
This twist meant that the film ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. We know he is a rapist because throughout the film Casey experiences flashbacks to her childhood, a film technique that has not at all been overused. Aside from the clumsy use of flashback, rape is actually a horrible thing to happen to someone, especially from a trusted family member, and it was borderline disrespectful that Shylamylan had used it in order to create one final twist. I’m not saying that it couldn’t have been used as a sub-plot at all, it was just very poorly done.
Despite the multiple, major issues I have with Split, it did have a huge amount of potential. Hedwig and Miss Patricia were characters (or different personalities living within Kevin’s body) who showed how one person can seem so completely different just due to their identity and mannerisms. Perhaps a film which showed the conflict between each personality due to the entrapment of the girls would have been better, rather than a film which ended with a flesh-eating monster and a loner girl who escaped.