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Shyamalan’s “Split” delivers terror … and possibility

Updated: Apr 20, 2019


Dennis, one of several personalities in The Horde, insists on order and obedience, as he kidnaps Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy).

(4K frame shots courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment)


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital copy; 2016; PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence, and some profanity; Streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube

Best extra: "The Making of 'Split'"

NO ONE has pushed a film about Dissociative Identity Disorder – formerly known as multiple personality disorder – so far since Sally Field in "Sybil," a two-part, 1976 TV movie based on the true-life book of the same name.

It's a scary, disturbing story about a condition in which a person develops separate, distinct identities, a survival response to abuse, setting in when a child is very young. Even when recognized, it can't heal without treatment. M. Night Shyamalan's "Split," starring James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy, is dead center in this arena. Comparison to "Psycho" or "Fight Club" is a given, but there are new depths to be plunged here, including Shyamalan's twist ending. (Be sure to stick around at the closing credits.)

Like what if a person with DID thought one of his personalities was supernatural? Would they actually have powers, Shyamalan asks in "The Making of 'Split.'" McAvoy's Kevin Crumb has 23. Three mostly take center stage – manipulative Dennis, proper Patricia, and nine-year-old mischief-maker Hedwig. Hedwig warns someone else lurks inside. It's the Beast, and he's dangerous, possibly deadly.

Playing the personalities of The Horde was an actor's tour de force and James McAvoy was up to the challenge. Pictured here are the stern Dennis; refined English lady Ms. Patricia; playful 9-year-old Hedwig, and Barry, who appears to control when the other characters come out. He usually carries a portfolio of sketches. He's seen here with his therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley. 

This is just more bad news for the three young women who have been kidnapped and imprisoned by Dennis. Casey Cooke (Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) try to be proactive, but there's little hope of success. Their best bet lies in the other personalities. Fearful of Dennis and Patricia's plans, they contact their therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), for an emergency session.

One of the plot elements that doesn't ring true is how Fletcher denies the existence of No. 24. She can accept 23, but not one more? Still, don't let that get in the way of an otherwise perfect blend of horror and suspense. "Split" is one of Shyamalan's best, harkening back to earlier work like "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs." It's much better than "The Visit" (2015), which was good, but unwatchable after one viewing.

"Split" holds up for repeat views, especially to see how well it's constructed. People are hurt and killed, but gore is only glimpsed. Sexuality is suggested and, in context, disturbing. The betrayal of trust creates tension and anxiety among the characters … and the audience.

The movie was digitally shot by Mike Gioulakis, the talent behind horror sleeper, "It Follows." Decades in planning, "'Split' was always inspired by independent cinema," Shyamalan says. "I loved the movie 'It Follows.' I loved the way it was shot, so I got that cinematographer, this young guy who'd barely shot anything."

"It feels very like a French film in a lot of ways," Buckley says. "There's a style to it. The way they're lighting the movie and the way they're shooting is very artistic and beautiful. It's an unusual combination for a film that's meant to scare the bejesus out of you."

Casey, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marica (Jessica Sula) await the arrival of The Beast.

Dennis finds Claire hiding inside a locker after her failed attempt to escape.

M. Night Shyamalan, in a cameo as security guard Jai, going over security footage with Dr. Fletcher of Barry leaving her office.


The cinematic look translates well in Universal's 4K Ultra HD transfer, upconverted from a 2K master and sourced from 3.4K digital cameras, with its palette of browns, rust and gold. Shadows are finely graded from soft grays to inky black; even sunlit scenes are gently muted. Production designer Mara LePere-Schloop ("True Detective") helps create an atmosphere of subtle, half-seen clues – details from the lives of the multiple personalities. "When you get down into the windowless room [where the girls are imprisoned] the reality is that we keep peeling out and opening up that subterranean space," she says.


The DTS-HD six-channel audio is another pleasant surprise. The story is largely driven by dialogue and silence; there is no need for a bombastic soundtrack. Immersive sound found in a mall, a parking lot and tunnels place us in the scene. The moody, electronic score is by West Dylan Thordson.


Bonus features include an alternative ending, which Shyamalan considered too dark, and nine deleted scenes, all with optional introductions. Several involve an unused plotline about the therapist. Cinemaphiles will get a clear picture of the creative process and what it's like to edit, paring a story down to its strongest elements.

"The Making of 'Split'" and "The Filmmaker's Eye: M. Night Shyamalan" provide interviews with cast and creators. Shyamalan talks about the importance of the right cast, something he learned from Spielberg, and the efforts he takes to get a scene right. "The Many Faces of James McAvoy" goes into the actor's preparation for the various personas. He's mostly known as the young Charles Xavier in the X-Men films, and the gentle faun, Mr. Tumnus, in "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." "Split" was a hush-hush project, and the actors were sworn to secrecy before reading the script. McAvoy's performances are memorable and authentic, but everyone does a fine job on screen.

All in all, it looks as if Shyamalan has returned to his Hitchcockian roots. "There's a purity to him that he had early on in his career that he has found again," executive producer Ashwin Rajan says. "He's gone back to the love of filmmaking and storytelling, and he's really focused on the characters. He's doing what I think he does best, which is telling really personal, contained stories."

— Kay Reynolds

Hedwig takes Casey to his room to show her some dancing moves.

The Beast has arrived.

Casey encounters The Beast. 





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