Kevin Wendell Crumb isn't in control anymore.
He used to be. But after suffering abuse from a very young age onward, he slowly became guided by someone else. A number of someones actually.
Dr. Karen Fletcher has been working with the damaged young man for several years now. She thinks she's helping him make real progress. And in her expert opinion, Kevin is the most advanced and complicated case of Dissociative Identity Disorder ever known.
Kevin is functional. But he has no fewer than 23 different, complete and fully developed personalities living within him—each with its own strengths, physical traits and foibles, and each with its own unique ways of managing Kevin's fears and protecting him from the world around him.
In fact, there are so many individuals born of Kevin's disorder and rooted in his mind that Dr. Fletcher hasn't even met them all. They each step "into the light"—as she and Kevin have come to call it—and take control at different times. But though Dr. Fletcher has been told of the personalities such as "Dennis" and "Miss Patricia," they've never revealed themselves to her.
What the good and caring doctor doesn't know, however, is that those two personas have been showing up quite often when Kevin is out of her care. It could be said, in fact, that with the help of a 9-year-old personality named Hedwig, Dennis and Miss Patricia have joined forces to take total control of Kevin's actions.
Those actions include grabbing three teen girls from a party and dragging them down into a creepy, basement-like lair. Dennis and Miss Patricia, you see, have something special in store for the girls. And they're working hard at opening Kevin up to a new presence that will move into the light soon. Something very powerful. Something utterly horrible.
Something they call The Beast.
Dr. Fletcher is a caring, conscientious psychiatrist who is willing to do whatever it takes to help her mentally ill patients. In fact, she mentions she has steered away from having a traditional family in order to invest that kind of family-like love and time into the patients in her practice. She truly wants to bring Kevin to a place of healing, and we see him respond positively to her efforts.
The three young women, Casey, Claire and Marcia are dragged into a horrible situation beyond their control. And, though they are all terrified, they use everything they have to aid one another. Eventually, another character takes great risks to help them as well.
The movie suggests that total belief in something is a powerful force, even when it springs from a wounded, tortured mind. Accordingly, we see Kevin's sheer force of will accomplish some remarkable things. Dr. Fletcher raises the question of whether or not that unflinching mental certainty is "where our sense of the supernatural" comes from. She also links a deranged individual's ability to alter his body chemistry to the concept of human evolution.
Elsewhere, we hear a man exclaim, "What in the name of Mary and Joseph?"
Though Dennis is forbidden by Miss Patricia from sexually manhandling his teen girl captives, he still uses his abhorrence for dirt and filth to justify demanding that they remove some soiled pieces of clothing. Claire and Marcia start out in rather form-fitting and skimpy skirts and shirts, but they eventually get down to revealing undergarments. Casey removes several layers, too, and has an outer shirt torn off.
We hear a story about a man touching a woman's breast. Kevin, manifesting 9-year-old Hedwig, asks Casey if he can kiss her, and he awkwardly does so.
Casey recalls being coaxed as a 5-year-old into removing her clothes by her adult Uncle John. (We see him on all fours dressed in nothing but boxer shorts while the girl begins to remove her shirt.) It's implied that Uncle John sexually abuses her. In fact, after the girl's dad passes away, she's taken in by her uncle, and we get the sense that she has since endured an entire childhood full of that kind of abuse.
Kevin strips off his shirt when becoming The Beast.
Split packs a heavy sense of foreboding physical danger for the fragile-looking young women at the core of this story. At first, that just plays out the form of frowning threats from Dennis and some light manhandling.
But things get much darker from there. [Spoiler Warning] Eventually we see these victims bloodied, battered and, in one case, eaten. The camera shows a girl with a large wound on her abdomen. Casey sees someone dragged away and consumed (off-camera). She's also grabbed and bitten, and we see the bloody bite mark.
We see a man take two shotgun blasts to the chest and stomach. Someone gets stabbed (though the knife blade breaks). Five-year-old Casey looks closely at a dead deer. She also points a shotgun at someone. The teen version of Casey has scars on her shoulders and stomach. Hedwig says of The Beast's personality, "He's done awful things to people, and he'll do awful things to you."
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word combined with "mother" and a couple of uses of the s-word. Half a dozen or so other profanities include "h---," "a--," "d--n," "b--ch" and one misuse of Jesus' name. Casey angrily spits the crude suggestion "blow me" at one of the other girls.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Dennis sprays a drug into the faces of the three young women and later into Dr. Fletcher's face, rendering all of them unconscious. One of Kevin's personalities is diabetic and gives himself an insulin shot. In a flashback, a then 5-year-old Casey sees her dad and uncle drink beer.
Other Negative Elements
Marcia intentionally wets herself to keep germ-phobic Dennis at bay.
Sometimes, evaluating which ticket to buy at the box office simply comes down to your appetite: What are you willing to stomach with your buttery popcorn and bubbly soda?
I'd suggest that's a good question to ask in the case of Split.
Director M. Night Shyamalan's latest horror thriller is admittedly tense and well-directed. Shyamalan relishes peeling back the layers of an unsettling storyline with disturbingly creepy savor. And James McAvoy's believable multi-character portrayal, one that's full of quick veers and mad-eyed leers, is akin to sitting through an acting master class.
All that said, however, when you boil this flick down to its most basic narrative essence, you're left with the increasingly grim story of a demented, mentally tortured maniac who abducts and strips teen girls with the ultimate goal of—spoiler warning—eating them.
So, what is your gut telling you?
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb/Dennis/Patricia/Hedwig/Barry/The Beast/Orwell/Jade; Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke; Haley Lu Richardson as Claire; Jessica Sula as Marcia; Betty Buckley as Dr. Karen Fletcher; Brad William Henke as Uncle John; Izzie Coffey as Five-Year-Old Casey
M. Night Shyamalan ( )
January 20, 2017
April 18, 2017