Meet Dennis. He’s a shaved head man with a pair of glasses and has OCD. He lives together with a 9-year-old kid named Hedwig, who happens to love Kanye West.
Both Dennis and Hedwig are kept in check by prim matriarch Patricia, who has a fondness for sweaters, brooches, and carving knives. Wannabe gay fashion designer Barry also lives with them. Then again, Barry might be Dennis. Or Romeo, or Jade, or Samuel, or any of the other persona that lives inside Kevin.
Kevin (played by James McAvoy) is a troubled young man who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID), more commonly known as split-personality disorder. That means he has multiple personalities – 23 to be exact – fighting for control over his body.
Set in Philadelphia, “Split” kicks off at a seemingly typical teenager’s birthday celebration. As the party starts to wrap, Casey (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) finds herself without a ride home after a pity invite so she ends up catching a ride with birthday girl Claire (played by Haley Lu Richardson) and her friend Marcia (played by Jessica Sula).
Just when the 2 giggly girl pals are busy browsing their phones, a mysterious man enters the parked vehicle, after presumably killing Claire’s dad, rendering all 3 teenage girls unconscious with aerosol chloroform.
When Casey, Claire, and Marcia awaken to their senses in a rough-hewn cell with a mysteriously pristine bathroom, they are both confused and terrified. Not only are the trio in the dark on why they’ve been kidnapped, they also don’t know by whom, or rather, by which personality.
The girls’ first encounter one of Kevin’s multiple personalities is with someone who introduces herself as Patricia during a cross-dressing scene. McAvoy effortlessly bounces from one accent and demeanour to another. It is only when he later shows up as a naive 9-year-old boy named Hedwig that Casey realise that there are vastly different personalities residing within Kevin’s body.
Seeing as how there may be an advantage with Kevin’s condition, Casey befriends the child in hopes that she will gain his trust and hopefully her freedom from the windowless confinement. What happens next is a cat-and-mouse tale in which Casey uses her past trauma as well as abuse to try and outsmart the multi-faceted villain.
While Casey’s cellmates are hasty to flee and opt for ill-planned tactics that result in failure, we see her taking a more cautious approach. As John DeFore of Hollywood Reporter points out, the flashback scenes to her childhood when she went deer hunting with her dad and uncle, suggests that life has provided her with experiences the sheltered girls don’t know. There’s a reason why Casey has developed her steely demeanour.
When Kevin or his other personalities aren’t occupied with the captives, we see him (usually as Barry, sometimes Dennis) attending his therapy sessions with psychiatrist, Dr Fletcher (played by Betty Buckley). One of the more fascinating scenes happen when the pair are interacting on Dr Fletcher’s couch.
After deducing that each of Kevin’s personalities were created to help him cope with his childhood and adult traumas, Dr Fletcher is on a mission to prove that individuals with mental illness may hold the key in unlocking the brain’s potential supernatural abilities.
However, the DID specialist is not aware that several personalities have gone rogue after kidnapping the girls, meant for “sacred food”, in preparation for the 24th personality, known as “The Beast”.
Although Taylor-Joy is impressive as Casey and proves that she is the newcomer to watch out in Hollywood, “Split” is a James McAvoy movie through and through. Most actors can only dream of taking on a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde role, but the “X-Men” actor has got the acting chops to sell it.
McAvoy is dazzling in his portrayal. Although not all 23 personalities are shown on the cinematic screen equally, they are all distinct and believable. With just a few minor costume changes, the 37-year-old actor is convincingly funny and silly one moment, then creepy and malevolent in the next.
As his various selves come out to play, his transformations are conveyed through body language, facial expression, and mannerisms. Our favourite scene was towards the end when McAvoy cycles between different personalities all in one go. There are no special effects to be found, just good acting.
Having said that, “Split” wouldn’t be a M. Night Shyamalan film without a surprise twist at the end. Luckily, the movie doesn’t rest on that plot twist. Despite this thriller faltering on storytelling, this is still one of Shyamalan’s better films thanks in large to his leading man.
Watch the trailer for “Split” below:
“Split” is currently showing in local cinemas.
For more information, visit the film’s official Facebook page.