May contain spoilers
Movies which have as its “monster” someone criminally insane is far from a new idea. It was in fact utilised by one of the first horror movies, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and it has been a hallmark of Batman stories for decades. Such a thing has even been a source of controversy, given that studies show mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.
Now we have Split, where James McAvoy plays Kevin, an antagonist with several personalities. Sometimes he calls himself “Hedwig” and has the mentality of a little boy. Sometimes he’s a woman named Patricia. And then there’s the most fierce and dangerous personality of them all, known simply as “The Beast”. Kevin has kidnapped three girls specifically to sate The Beast’s hunger.
The film is worth seeing for McAvoy alone, and it is rather impressive how he can make each personality distinct and make every one of them seem unnerving. Though he is reminiscent of Red Dragon’s Francis Dolarhyde – he has an alternate personality that’s a monster and has a background involving domestic abuse – he still feels like his own character. At one point, he, in his Hedwig persona, kisses one of the kidnapped girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and then says ‘You might get pregnant’; a quote that’s humorous and sinister at the same time. Casey is the most prominent of the three girls, the final girl if you will, and Taylor-Joy, a newcomer who has nonetheless done good performances in The Witch and Morgan, creates another good performance here.
The movie is also appropriately tense and eerie, making you genuinely worry about the girls and their fate. The opening titles have a sort of Hitchcock feel to them and chases down a rusty corridor which involve hiding in a locker reminded me of the game Outlast. The film knows how to keep you watching through its entire runtime and its ending…well, let’s just say I didn’t see it coming.
Split is not only frightening but fun to watch, especially McAvoy and the characters he plays.