The Hippo


Jul 20, 2019








Split (PG-13)

Split (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Split (PG-13)

Three girls are kidnapped by a man with multiple personalities in Split, a fairly standard horror-thriller from M. Night Shyamalan.
Three girls sit in a car in a parking lot after a birthday party. Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), the birthday girl, and her friend Marcia (Jessica Sula) chat in the back seat while they wait for Claire’s dad (Neal Huff) to finish loading presents into the trunk. Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), invited more out of Claire’s sense of politeness than out of friendship, stares moodily out the window in the front seat. When a strange man (James McAvoy) gets into the driver’s seat, Claire and Marcia suggest he’s in the wrong car while Casey freezes. Even as the kidnapping begins, we in the audience realize that Casey recognizes the terror that’s about to befall the girls. A scene in the locked basement room where the girls wake up after the man has used some sort of knockout spray on them confirms that Casey, a quiet girl who doesn’t fit in, has a history with being victimized.
Exactly what is now tormenting Casey and the other girls, however, is not something anyone has much of a history with. After they hear the man, whom they come to know as Dennis, arguing with someone else, they meet Patricia, who presents herself as a prim British woman despite being the same man in a dress. Then they meet Hedwig, who is dressed like and acts like a 10-year-old boy, also the same man but, as with Dennis and Patricia, not privy to the thoughts of the other personalities. Because he acts like a kid and has kid-like reactions to things, it’s Hedwig that Casey first tries to manipulate to find a way out. From their interactions with all three personalities, the girls piece together that they are meant as “sacred food” for something called “the Beast,” which, ominously, is coming.
Meanwhile, an amateur fashion designer named Barry keeps emailing his therapist, Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), for emergency meetings. At least, it appears to be Barry. But Karen starts to work out that her patient with multiple personalities, the dominant of which is the affable Barry, might have had some kind of internal realignment, putting other personalities in control. She becomes worried that the emails are cries for help from Barry’s various personalities who are concerned that Dennis and Patricia, two of the darker personalities, are doing something bad.
So, in a very limited way, Karen starts to wonder about her patient while the girls try to find a way out of captivity — a fairly standard race against the clock with the girls and the doctor working to figure out what the man is up to before violence ensues. Intercut with this are flashbacks to Casey as a young girl and the situation that has left her so scarred. Just in case you worried that this movie might not be brutal enough to its female characters.
I don’t look to horror movies for my feminist thought and examples of female agency but when somebody like Shyamalan, who has arty pretensions and seems to want us to be all enamored with his movie’s use of stylized camera work, falls back on putting scared teen girls in their underwear, I’m just not impressed. Or interested. Or willing to give the “can personality shape physical ability?” idea all that much leeway, storytelling-wise. This might not be as dumb as “the trees are committing mass murder!” but it isn’t so much smarter than your standard teen slasher. (Though, points for reminding me what a smart actress Haley Lu Richardson is. I only know her from The Edge of Seventeen and she has that early-career Jennifer Lawrence/Shailene Woodley quality of seeming like a believable version of a young woman. Here’s hoping she keeps getting work.)
The movie ends with a final little coda that I won’t spoil, exactly, but I feel like it’s worth mentioning. It is pre-credits but it has that Marvel post-credits feel, and not in the fun “everybody eats shawarma” sense but more in the exhausting “is that Thanos? Am I supposed to know if it’s Thanos?” realm. It feels lazy, like an attempt to reframe everything you’ve just seen as something bigger than what it appeared to be. But if you wanted to make that movie, M. Night, you should have made that movie and not made this very familiar girls-in-peril thing that you try to dress up as something more. C-
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, Split is an hour and 57 minutes long and is distributed by Universal Pictures. 

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