M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split”, the second film in the “Unbreakable” trilogy, was originally released in 2016 as a prelude to the culminating chapter, “Glass” and introduces the character of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a mentally ill young man with 23 distinct personalities living inside his body as a defense mechanism for the abuses he suffered as a child. The personalities are collectively known as the Horde, and it preys on young women as a sacrifice to the Beast, the 24th personality which is also touted to have superhuman strength and agility similar to that of an animal.
The treatment for Split, which comes 16 years after the first movie in the trilogy is quite different considering that despite the relative quietness of the film, there is a palpalable sense of danger and suspense lurking in each scene. Unbreakable was a journey of discovery for David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price’s (Samuel L. Jackson) role in the comic book genre. Split was a deconstruction of Kevin Crumb’s character and the gradual revelation of his personalities and the roles they play in his totality.
As each of Kevin’s personality is revealed to be more dangerous than the previous one, it became increasingly more terrifying for his hostages Casey (Anya Taylor-Cook), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) to battle through their panic at finding a way out of their predicament. It gets even more worrisome when they are separated from each other, trapped in the basement and unable to call for help. It communicates a sense of helpnessness to the audience, who are just as horrified about the coming of the Beast.
James McAvoy was brilliant in this movie and delivered on his role flawlessly, shifting from character to character in such a fluid transition, as if he never even had to think about it. He was stern and unbending as Miss Patricia, agitated yet trying to be calm as the OCD Dennis, flamboyant and casual as Barry, innocent and goofy as Hedwig, vulnerable and afraid as Kevin, and finally, brutal and menacing as the Beast. I am a particular fan of Hedwig, who really lightened up the mood with his quips despite the underlying sense of danger in his character.
I also liked the dynamic he established with Casey, and the unraveling of why Casey was different from the rest of the victims. It was weird but it seemed that the characters immediately sensed that they were kindred spirits and it was heartbreaking when Casey’s flashback revealed her family situation. Her encounter with Kevin and the immediate empathy between the two characters as he struggled with the rest of the Horde was one of the strongest scenes in the movie.
I also liked the Beast’s deliberate pursuit of his prey. It was intense and laid out the character’s uncanny abilities, adding to the suspense of the moment and the horror of the situation.
Split incorporated a lot of the elements of movies that tackled the subject of crazed psychos who abduct and toy with their victims. It maintained a certain level of suspense throughout the movie that was magnified by the superb performance of its lead star. Split managed to tell the story of Kevin Wendell Crumb independently from its predecessor and it was far more interesting in its approach too, I might add.
As a standalone, Split was understandably open ended mainly because it was setting up for the conclusion to the trilogy. However, I think that it succeeded in the sense that it managed to establish a connection between the audience and the Horde and in doing so, got them involved enough in the story to want to know what does happen to the Beast in the third movie. It makes audiences look forward to seeing McAvoy crush his portrayal of 24 different personalities once again and with this, I think M. Night Shyamalan accomplished his goal of generating more interest in the franchise which he started 16 years ago.