Despite the clear, warm, spring-type weather of a recent Tuesday, I decided to take a foray to the local cinematorium. This is not to be confused with a sanitarium, which is where I like to hang out on weekends. What to see? It was slim pickens, and I don’t mean the late actor. In fact, if the local Cinemark had been hosting a “Slim Pickens Career Retrospective”, I would have been first in line. Unfortunately, it’s Oscar season, and The Doctor shares Cade’s thoughts on not only the Oscars but also on awards shows in general. I like awards with real meaning, like the time I took home a plastic trophy from The Surly Moose bar for winning a lime-slicing contest. Anyway, it turns out that there was a motion picture on the docket that intrigued me, that of Split, the latest directorial effort from suspense maestro M. Night Shyamalan (for editorial purposes, he will be referred to as M. Night for the remainder of this review).
When it comes to the films of M. Night, I am somewhat split myself! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I never understood the hullaballoo over The Sixth Sense, although I thoroughly enjoyed Unbreakable. Signs was an entertaining movie, but after viewing The Village I no longer had M. Night’s films in the “must see” category of my ledger. Having said that, he certainly has to get as many points as are allowed for being a creative and original storyteller, that’s an opinion that The Doctor cannot overstate. Most of his work appears to be made up of interesting suspense yarns that deal in the fantastic, and while I realize that isn’t a great description for a body of work, it will have to suffice. M. Night’s films more or less defy any strict classification and that is indeed a compliment.
Which brings us back to Split. I thought it was Discount Tuesday at Cinemark, so I was slightly taken aback when I was charged $9.75 for a matinee ticket. The pothead working the ticket counter informed me that the extra charge was due to the fact that I would be enjoying the “XD Experience” that afternoon. Well, hot shit! Bereft of other options, I gave him a ten dollar bill and told him to keep the change for his Zig Zag fund. I then forked over additional monies for a small popcorn – soaked in butter, of course – and a Dixie cup-sized container of Sprite which I immediately drained and filled with Bombay Sapphire gin. By the way, the “XD Experience” is sensually gratifying but I don’t see how it added anything to a viewing of Split. It would definitely be worthwhile for a movie like Rogue One, or perhaps with Dunkirk this summer, but with Split I have no choice but to say that the sons of bitches robbed me.
Three young ladies are attending what appears to be a birthday party at some type of event center. We learn that Claire (the lovely Haley Lu Richardson) was forced to invite Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) to the gathering, otherwise she would be the only person from Claire’s art class not to be invited. This establishes that while all of these ladies are appealing to the eye, they maybe don’t necessarily come from the same childhood backgrounds. By the way, before I am accused of perversion, although these actresses are playing teenagers they are all at least twenty in the real world. Richardson was in a comedy called The Bronze, which really should have been a better movie than it was although it’s no fault of hers, and I believe she has a prominent role in the recent coming-of-age dramedy Edge of Seventeen. I saw Taylor-Joy deliver a winning performance in the eerie horror film Witch, a film that I recommend if you don’t mind being unable to sleep that night (Doctor’s note: a brace of cocktails always helps me to overcome this condition but I do not medically sanction this. It would be irresponsible of me.)
When Casey’s ride doesn’t show up, Claire and her pal Marcia (the equally lovely Jessica Sula) offer to give Casey a ride home. Once they are ensconced in the car in a suburban parking lot, a strange young man shows up and drugs them with some kind of spray and then whisks them away to be locked up in his dark, cavernous lair. The young man is of course played by James McAvoy, wide-eyed and completely shorn of locks. He is afflicted with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or as it is more commonly referred to, split personalities. And is he ever afflicted! We are informed via a meeting with his psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) that McAvoy’s character actually has twenty-three different personalities! Jesus. I’m afraid at this point I have to accuse Dr. Fletcher of piss-poor doctoring. Behavioral science isn’t really my field of expertise, but you don’t have to be Einstein to recognize that a person with 23 split personalities is going to prove unmanageable and almost certainly dangerous. Two or three personalities might be cause for treatment, but with 23 I think the only reasonable option is to lock the looney toon in a cage and toss the key into the Gulf of Mexico. We only see a fraction of these personalities, but therein lies the reason for seeing this movie above all else: James McAvoy. Holy Shit. Of the personalities that we do encounter, two of them are presumably young men around McAvoy’s age, but one is a stern, middle-aged British woman and another is a nine-year old boy with a slight speech impediment! If this sounds batshit crazy, that’s because it is.
I don’t know much about McAvoy, but after watching him perform the roles of Kevin/Dennis/Patrica/Barry/Hedwig I couldn’t blame him if he went a little wacko himself after principal photography was completed. I have seen McAvoy in other films, and while I previously would have said that he is a good actor, this is on an altogether different level. I think I first took note of him in the film The Last King of Scotland, but he was mostly overshadowed by Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin. In Split, however, we are given an example of how an actor with real talent and given the right opportunity can shake the fucking trees. I’ll refrain from naming names, but there are a host of other famous actors in McAvoy’s age group that can only wish that they had his capabilities. I was so mesmerized that I only refilled my Dixie cup with gin once during the entire movie. That previous statement of mine should be on the marquee.
What will our girls do? Although the Kevin personality definitely seems like an aggressive pervert, the Patricia (prim British woman) personality informs the girls that they will not be touched. No, they are to serve a higher purpose. Casey the outsider is the more savvy of the three young ladies and through a series of flashbacks it is confirmed that she definitely has had a different and certainly more traumatic childhood than her counterparts. Casey knows that they are in a bizarre situation and need to wait for the right time to escape, but her friends may not have her patience or wherewithal for coping with the ordeal. Then again, who in the hell would? Eventually they are separated into different rooms and informed that they have been kidnapped to serve as “food” at the time of the coming of The Beast. Is The Beast real? Are we going to be subjected to some sort of narrative twist during the finale, a staple of M. Night’s work and a device that The Doctor personally thinks is played out? There is a nod to the Unbreakable universe, but I can’t say more than that.
The film is basically told in three environments. There is the labyrinthine hideaway where the girls are stowed, the aforementioned flashbacks to Casey’s childhood, and finally Dr. Fletcher’s office where Barry (a fashion artist and the seemingly most well-adjusted of the split personalities) comes for sessions. I honestly forgot that Split was an M. Night movie at some point, which I don’t mean as a slight to him at all. McAvoy is just that captivating. The palpable suspense never wavers and there isn’t a single dull minute out of the 117. Opinions vary, as the late Patrick Swayze says in Roadhouse, but even if this movie isn’t your cup of tea, I dare anyone to state that McAvoy’s performance is nothing short of breathtaking. I’m afraid that the young ladies might not get their fair due next to McAvoy but they all deliver good performances. After Witch and now Split, Taylor-Joy is a young actress that certainly has The Doctor’s attention and I don’t just mean that because she is twenty years-old and cute. I have often opined that an actor’s non-verbal work is truly what sets them apart and all three of these young ladies are definitely adept at expressing what seems like real fear, terror, and confusion. I feel that we are going to definitely hear more from all of them in the not distant future. Well, hell, this seems like an ideal time to show a picture of the good looking ladies.
There isn’t much else to say, other than that it is The Doctor’s recommendation that you see Split. If its box-office performance has legs, you may be able to still catch it in the theater by the time this review is posted (But don’t fall for the XD trap, unless you are on an already expensive date that you are confident will end in the making of love). If Split disappears from the cineplex you can probably still catch it later at a local dollar theater, but that will probably be at around the same time that becomes available for rent on Netflix or Amazon. At any rate, I think I have made my opinion clear. Cuddle up on the couch with some buttery popcorn and a Dixie cup of Bombay Sapphire gin and take in Split. It looks like M. Night still has some bullets in the pantry and McAvoy certainly stamps his foot on the earth. As always, The Doctor wishes you all a clean bill of health.
* EDITOR’S NOTE. Cade here. Until reading The Doctor’s fantastic critical analysis of the film Split above, I was under the false impression that the movie was perhaps about banana split sundaes. Obviously I was way off base as usual. However, if you’re interested in movies featuring banana splits then I highly recommend 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie. To hell with Captain America, this was by far Chris Evans’ best work.