Even though I watched this for the first time last year after I heard about the final twist that connected it to Unbreakable I never got around to writing about it until now. And honestly, I’m glad I did as I was able to watch a video showcasing some of the extra good parts that I missed the first time around and I also saw more things that I hadn’t quite noticed on a first watch. This was a great return to form for Shyamalan after a series of disappointments and even though Glass didn’t quite resonate with many of his fans, I think that this is a great trilogy with a very similar style. Where Unbreakable was the first act of the origin story, this is the second act where it showcases the origin of the villain. It also has a similar slow pace and real world explanations for the powers. Not only that, but it also holds its own as a stand-alone horror suspense movie.
One of the first things that anyone typically says about this movie is how outstanding James McAvoy’s performance is and that is well deserved. He plays a half dozen different characters as part of his singular character’s dissociative identity disorder and each one has not only its own distinct speech pattern and dialect, but also their posture, even the way that he expresses his face changes. Not only that, but through a couple scenes he actually plays a character within a character as the obsessive compulsive undesirable Dennis pretends to be the fashion designer previous in-control desirable Barry. There are several moments within the film where he merely enters the room and you can immediately tell which personality is in control.
As this is the second part of a trilogy, there are some definite similarities between the three films, and one of the most immediately recognizable ones is the way the film is shot and its pacing. The opening scenes of this film fairly closely mirror the opening scenes of Unbreakable where instead of the slow camera moves between the seats of the train as the impending danger becomes more apparent, we instead the slow camera moves between the front seat and back seat of the car as a very different sort of impending danger becomes more apparent. These slow, deliberate takes continue on throughout the entire movie even though the overall tone is different. Where Unbreakable was more of a family drama and character study, the tone reflected that drama and tension between David and his wife. Here, the tone is more fitting of a suspenseful horror and the tension is between the Horde and their captives.
What M. Night Shyamalan has become known for is the twists at the end of his movies, and lately there have been multiple twists or reveals for better or worse. Split could be considered to have at least three different reveals of varying qualities that do different things to the story. The one that most people talk about is the extraneous twist that shows David Dunn at the very end of this movie that connects it to Unbreakable. And while it explains the basis for the next film Glass, it’s one of those twists that more or less come out of nowhere and have very little impact on the overall story. The other least important twist is the reveal that the Beast personality really is superhuman with the ability to walk on walls and get shot with little injury. But there are two more reveals that have a much bigger impact on the overall story as a whole and are the best kinds of twists as they change how you view the movie for a second time. The reveal that Casey has not only been the victim of abuse, but that the abuse has been happening for multiple years and is still happening. There’s a reason why she knows what to do in this situation, and that’s because she’s survived similar situations for half of her life.
Casey as a character in general is often not given as much credit as James McAvoy because she’s only playing a single character instead of several. But her single character is just as nuanced as any of McAvoy’s without any of the gimmicks. She is just as calculating as she weighs her options between complying with the Horde’s demands and trying to go against them and often chooses compliance in order to wait out the situation rather than playing her hand too early and getting deeper into trouble. We also get to see her mirror the situation she’s in with the original situation between herself and her abusive Uncle, even the climax with the shotgun that plays out two different ways.
Of course, since this is more or less the second act of a superhero movie, specifically the origin of the supervillain, it does follow certain beats on that front. There’s the explanation in the form of the therapist that shows how the Horde is able to have different physical abilities depending on which personality has the light, like how one of the personalities has diabetes which physically manifests itself only when that personality is present. There’s also the escalation as the Dennis personality initially captures young girls in order to watch them dance naked, but now Dennis, Miss Patricia, and the Beast are collecting these pure girls in order to actually eat them in a ritualistic sacrifice. And by the end of the film there’s the final reveal of the Beast. While it’s a very unconventional approach, when put together with Unbreakable and Glass it fits as a semi-realistic take on a supervillain in the same way that Unbreakable was a semi-realistic take on a superhero. The movie itself works on multiple levels as just a straight up suspense/horror film as well as an unconventional supervillain origin story with multiple twists that enhance the movie rather than detract from it and is an enjoyable experience across multiple viewings. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.