Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #608
Number of Views: One
Release Date: January 20, 2017
Sub-Genre: Psychological Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $240,200,000
Running Time: 117 minutes
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Producers: M. Night Shyamalan, Jason Blum, Marc Bienstock
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Visual Effects: Ed Mendez
Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis
Production Design: Mara LePere-Schloop
Score: West Dylan Thordson
Editing: Luke Franco Ciarrocchi
Studios: Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus, Neal Huff, Kim Director, Lyne Renée, M. Night Shyamalan, Bruce Willis
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Sia “Paranoid Android”
 West Dylan Thordson “Kevin Wendell Crumb”
 West Dylan Thordson “Meeting The Others”
 West Dylan Thordson “The Beast Bonus Track”
I’ve always considered myself a people person. While very much aware of my flaws, I’m also more than mindful of their corresponding strengths, one of which being the ability to adapt to different personalities and situations with little fuss. Should I be talking to a youth, then I’ll make any adjustments necessary to appeal to their sensibilities, whereas place me in front of a pensioner, and any streetwise vocabulary is kept to the barest of minimums. This derives from a deep-rooted need to make a good impression and the term “social chameleon” is often used to describe my kind. Of course, there is always the danger of becoming Jack of all trades and coming across as insincere for flitting from one to the next at will, but every different side of myself that I reveal is authentic and forms part of a larger picture. The bottom line is that I’m in control of which of these personalities I choose to share and don’t need medication to assist me with curbing my enthusiasm.
It’s one thing compartmentalizing and entirely another being slave to a multitude of voices within your head. Dissociative identity disorder is characterized by the presence of two or more split personalities and often stems from severe trauma during early childhood. This can result from repeated physical, sexual, or emotional abuse too painful to assimilate with our conscious selves and is effectively a coping mechanism set in place by the subconscious. I’m no neuroscientist and neither do I claim to know a great deal about the ins and outs but I’m more than aware how debilitating a condition it can be, and in extreme cases, potentially hazardous. The list of recognizable symptoms alone boggles the mind – depression, mood swings, eating and sleep disorders, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, compulsions, rituals, self-persecution, suicidal tendencies, and last but not least, psychosis. If that sounds like rather a lot to juggle, then perhaps that would explain why personnel is so divided.
Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) has his work cut out for him as there are 23 individual personalities present within his bulging cranium at all times, vying for airtime. Each have been provided a name but most predominant of them all is “Barry”, whose responsibility it is to control which of these alter-egos is afforded access into “the light”. Barry is a flamboyant fashion designer who poses precious little threat to society, and under his guidance, Kevin is able to live a relatively normal life.
Indeed his psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), is positively thrilled with the progress he has made in holding down a long-term job, and while not about to count her chickens, has no just cause to question his mental stability. The two meet regularly to discuss the any “garden-variety issues” he is currently facing and all appears to be hunky dory on face value.
Alas, unbeknownst to the good doctor, “Dennis” is actually responsible for front of house and has sussed out how to pull the wool over the old girl’s eyes. This solemn-faced clean freak gets his shits and giggles from watching young girls dance naked and is not the kind of character safe to unleash on an unsuspecting public. Thus he pulls the strings quietly from beneath the veil, while his more agreeable tag-team partner continues to strike a pose front and centre.
Other regulars include gently spoken English rose “Patricia”, who has a penchant for turtleneck sweaters and Pashmina shawls, and “Hedwig”, a nine-year-old cutie pie with a severe lisp who enjoys nothing more than shaking her stuff to Kanye West “etcetera” in her boudoir. If it all sounds a little haywire inside Kevin’s head, then you really don’t know the half of it.
You see, rumor has it that a 24th identity is preparing to make its grand entrance and Dr. Fletcher is keen to keep this one strictly under wraps. According to Barry, this spiteful brute is a “sentient creature who represents the highest point of human evolution”. That may well be but it also comes at the expense of anything resembling human characteristics.
Feral and unforgiving, The Beast is far more powerful than the other 23 combined and it will take a lot more than a rousing half-time pep talk from Dennis to talk it down once it chooses to bolt its enclosure. Alarm bells are ringing and Fletch treads very carefully indeed when attempting to coerce her subject back towards more serene waters. If only she knew about the other company that Kevin keeps.
That’s right, locked away deep inside his undisclosed stronghold are Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), a trio of terrified teens he spirited away in broad daylight who are currently awaiting sacrifice to The Beast. While panic-mongers Claire and Marcia are pretty much your everyday adolescents, there are clear parallels between self-enforced outcast Casey and her captor.
As an infant she too suffered a significant trauma and this explains why she has “grown up” a lot faster than her classmates and has a tendency to drift in and out of her own little world willy nilly. All three are desperate to escape their host’s foul clutches but Casey’s logic is entirely different from her fellow cell mates. She quickly identifies Kevin’s condition and knows the only chance they have of getting out of this sterile prison alive is to manipulate his mind’s weakest link etcetera.
It would be fair to say that the once highly regarded M. Night Shyamalan has been on something of a barren run of late and The Sixth Sense has seemed a lifetime away as he has endeavored to reclaim his mojo. The Indian-American director, screenwriter, producer, and actor has long since become a victim of his own success as the public eventually grew weary of his twist-laden supernatural numbers and headed off elsewhere for their chills. It pleases me to the power of punch to report that Shyamalan has now called time on that slump as Split represents hands down the finest work he has churned out in over a decade and a half. It would appear that The Last Airbender has now been forgiven and forgotten as attested by almost $250 million in box-office return to date. Interestingly, Jason Blum is on co-production duties and the film’s global success further reinforces my belief that everything this man touches turns golden.
However, aside from Shyamalan’s airtight screenplay, there is another significant reason why his long-standing cinematic hex appears to have finally been listed. It’s tough to find an adequate superlative to express the mastery of McAvoy’s multi-tiered turn here. It is to his eternal credit that we never once feel anything less than shoulder-high in Kevin’s sinew throughout. Switching from one identity to the next like The Beast swings from vines, he showcases each idiosyncrasy and accentuation in such a generous manner that it becomes fruitless not sympathizing at least partially with his character’s thankless plight. If Oscar rewarded everyone equally then he’d be a shoe-in for a Best Actor nod in my opinion but we all know that ain’t gonna happen any time soon. I shit you not, it is like casting your eye over T-1000 minus the mercury, and he is never less than magnanimous when affording us a comfy chair in Kevin’s personal head space.
Meanwhile, Taylor-Joy (The Witch) supplies precisely what it states post-hyphen in a role that is just as uppermost to our investment. Wrestling with her own lingering demons, Casey displays true grit when the whitewashed walls start closing in and the young actress effortlessly convinces that there’s more to this particular yardbird than meets the eye. The numerous dialogues between captive and captor lend tremendous weight to the picture, particularly when the bashful Hedwig takes centre stage and each cunning calculation becomes critical. She’s smart enough not to see things in black and white, but also sufficiently shrewd not to come across too whip-smart as The Beast lies in wait as an unthinkable reward for blown cover.
Perhaps the most generous exchanges are between McAvoy and Buckley as their unscheduled sparring provides by far the clearest insight into his fragmented mind. Using delicate interrogation to peruse his mental archives, she exhibits far more warmth than your average shrink and means well when all is said and done. Their conversations play out with ping-pong precision and prove a welcome distraction from being cooped up in his stifling quarters. Even though he is effectively playing her for a fool, she believes it still in her power to harness her patient’s gift, and tiptoes through Barry’s tulips, blissfully ignorant of the fact that she’s actually trampling down Dennis’s harvest. The audience knows something Dr. Fletcher doesn’t and it is to Buckey’s immense credit that we learn to genuinely care about her fate.
That said, the real meat and potatoes lay in The Beast’s back yard and the persistent threat he poses provides Split with the additional gear it requires to shift into something truly primal. Those searching for a pay-off can have no complaints with a final act that upholds logic even when questioning our faith in what’s feasible. Indeed, it is here that my fascination is most intense as I’ve been intrigued by the unlocked potential of the human brain ever since watching kung-fu top chop, Bruce Lee, devastate all-comers using the one-inch punch technique he mastered. Take a look at Hedwig for example – she’d have trouble simply punching her way through air – and exists in the body of a full-grown man who should see no hardship whatsoever in overpowering a teenage girl. The Beast, on the other hand, is all about the muscle mass, and it makes sense that its introduction will afford additional bulking. Nothing feels out-of-place in the context of the story Shyamalan is telling and this should silence all but his most bitter of critics.
There’s an unexpected treat at the close which reveals a far broader canvas and my lips remain sealed as to its relevance. All you need to know when preparing to book your appointment with Split is that many hands make light work. Kevin has forty-six of the buggers at his disposal (forty-eight if hooves are allowed), and while not all of them are on-deck, any finger food McAvoy brings to the table really is nothing less than delightful. Besides, I really, really enjoyed playing with Hedwig and he said I’m going to be his bestest friend for ever and ever. This is so cool! He’s got red socks and he’s got blue ones too. Can you keep a secret? I’m not supposed to say but he tried to kiss me and I almost got pregnant. Sorry Hedwig but I don’t think I’m ready to play mommies and daddies just yet. Besides, I find Kayne West’s music a little too naughty etcetera.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Dread Factor: 3/5
For the Dread-Heads: Split’s burn is wholly intentional and those expectant of a fleet-footed adrenaline fix may wish to adjust their expectations accordingly or else come away wanting. That said, creeping menace is here in abundance, and The Beast’s shadow looms large through every frame once we’re buckled in for the duration. The hideout itself feels suitably insular thanks to Mike Gioulakis’s suffocating photography and Mara LePere-Schloop’s positively pungent production design. But it’s The Beast populating these festering fixtures and fittings who truly milks those pineal glands.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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