Back when I was still in school, I read about Billy Milligan and his 24 personalities. It was a really thought provoking reading, and it’s after taste lingered even until now. So I’m really excited to see James McAvoy steps into his shoes. Even if The Last Airbender has totally botched how I perceived M. Night Shyamalan, I still got high hopes for this movie. And it does feels good to know that I didn’t misplaced my faith.
Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) was just about to go home with Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) when their car got hijacked and Dennis (James McAvoy) kidnapped them. During captive, they start to realize that they’re in even deeper shit than originally presumed after they meet Patricia and Hedwig, his other personalities.
At the same time, psychiatrist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) starts to realize that something is amiss with Barry, the main personality of his patient Kevin (James McAvoy)…
A thriller movie needs more than just eerie atmosphere to works. It’s the basic criteria, yes, but compelling characters are just as important. It needs to make me care – either for the protagonist-slash-victim or antagonist-slash-perpetrator. And Split got me caring for both. A feat that made this movie even more gripping and intense, as I root for Casey’s freedom as well as Barry’s well-being. M. Night Shyamalan humanize and explores both sides of the story, making this far more than just a kidnapping flick. No. This is a wistful tale of wronged victims, and how they fight to survive in their own ways. I especially like how Shyamalan juxtapose Casey and Kevin, presenting them as each other’s foil. And considering the issues involved, I’d said he handled their past well. Giving subtle but poignant cues about what the two has gone through, what shaped them into the person that they currently are, and how this kidnapping fiasco affect them.
Needless to say, James McAvoy was stellar. He played Kevin’s different personalities with such ease and conviction I was a liner away from believing it’s really him and his story. He, for all intents and purposes, stepped fully into Kevin’s shoes and walked in them. So much so I feel like it’s such a shame, that Shyamalan decided to shine the light only on a handful of his personalities. Because I would’ve loved to meet all the others and get to know each and every one of his 23 recorded personalities. It’s still early in the year, yes, but I daresay his performance is award worthy. On the other hand, Anya Taylor-Joy was just as intriguing as his adversary. Despite her straight face, there’s something in her eyes that indicates a hidden depth. And it is delicious, the way I get to see her layers got peeled one by one. It gets easier to read her as we know more about her. Yet even in her most desperate and emotional moments, I could still see and feel that gleaming steel-hard resolution of her. To gets through this. And to face whatever shit life throws at her.
So it was really nice to see that their remarkable performance didn’t go to waste. With a robust script, Shyamalan directed this otherwise simple game of cat and mouse into a gripping battle of survival. It made my skin crawl, both in anxiety and sick amusement. Because it is a spectacle, a rather horrifying one that you can’t take your eyes off of. Like when you see the victims of a car crash – you know you should look away, but your eyes are glued. And I do like how it doesn’t rely on jump scare or grand shocking twist. Instead it invested on building ambiance, dropping hints or clues here and there for me to pick up later on, and on a thorough character study. Plus, it is heartwarming to see Dr. Fletcher’s unwavering faith and care for Kevin. It is a prove that given proper treatment and support, even those who suffers from DID can live a fulfilling life and function like any other “normal” people. The whole kidnapping thing notwithstanding, of course.
Split is a rare gem, a very humane thriller. With just the right nip of monstrous threat, it ultimately is a suffocating story about how victims cope against their demons and joust for their life. It isn’t black and white, but rather luscious shades of grey. With hair-raising atmosphere that got me teetering on the edge of my seat, it’s not too much to say that I’m hooked.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan. Writer: M. Night Shyamalan. Released on: 15 February 2017 (Indonesia). Casts: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Betty Buckley.