Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Talent: Anya Taylor-Joy, James McAvoy, Haley Lu Richardson, Betty Buckley
Released: 20th January
Two discursive tendencies of the contemporary era of which M. Night Shyamalan’s Split is exemplary: i) the complete and total subsumption by pathological categories of all human difference, and ii) the blind and absolute faith in the ability of psychiatric institutions and frameworks to identify, explain and treat these.
Let me explain. Do you remember the penultimate scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, where the character of the psychiatrist is introduced? Addressing the bereaved and two policemen — and, implicitly, the film’s audience — he expounds on Norman Bates’ past and pathological nature, thus seeming to offer a logical explanation for his crimes. As with anything in Hitchcock’s oeuvre, the scene is the subject of debate. Is it there to placate, by comfortably explaining away the horror that precedes it? Or is it an ironic comment by the director on the insubstantiality of such attempts at explanation? At any rate, the psychiatrist’s comments themselves are glib and jarring in the context of the film overall. One senses the film could certainly do without him. Now, imagine that psychiatrist was the central character of a new blockbuster and you’ve got Split, an abduction horror-thriller with a split personality, played with hammy gusto by James McAvoy, at its centre.
Betty Buckley’s Dr. Fletcher, in much a similar role also to Morgan Freeman’s in 2014’s Lucy, intermittently sucks the fun out of everything by lecturing us on ‘cutting-edge’ developments in psychological theory surrounding dissociative identity disorder (D.I.D.), before becoming fatefully embroiled in proceedings herself. Needless to say, the content of her interventions is relentlessly positivist and reductive: stuff that would have been better left in Shyamalan’s rough work than appearing in all its dubious glory personified on-screen. They say action is the enemy of suspense. But you’ll be begging for action, or simply anything, when you sit through as much sheer explanation as Split has to offer. Shyamalan, now firmly in the decadent phase of his career, seems more concerned with simply recapitulating in the service of his own wack, inevitable reveal than producing anything really exciting. Make like a banana and don’t watch this movie.
Words – Oisín Murphy-Hall