Split review: Personality disorders of a seriously deranged kind

M Night Shyamalan’s bonkers return-to-form thriller starring James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy is enjoyably over the top

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Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cert: 15A
Genre: Thriller
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson
Running Time: 1 hr 57 mins

Opinions differ as to when M Night Shyamalan lost the plot and when (or if) he pulled himself together. Some will allow only his second film, The Sixth Sense, into the canon. This critic was among those who loved its follow-up, Unbreakable, and thought 2015's The Visit an absolute hoot. Nobody liked The Last Airbender.

At any rate, with The Visit and, now, Split, Shyamalan seems to have quietened his loudest and rudest critics. The new film is not much at home to subtlety. Its depiction of mental illness would be offensive if it were possible to view that engagement with any seriousness. But it certainly offers a great deal of broad fun.

There are, no doubt, units of scenery on distant planets unnerved by James McAvoy’s chewing here. That is as it should be. Nobody wants delicate muttering from an actor playing each of 23 personalities trapped in one body. The Scotsman is working hard for our entertainment, and it would be rude not to show appreciation.

Kevin Crum (McAvoy) does not just have dissociative identity disorder. As his psychiatrist (Betty Buckley, the teacher from Carrie) explains at enormous length, he has a magical version of the disease that causes his metabolism to alter as he shifts personae. So, one personality might have diabetes and another might not. One might even . . . No, let's not spoil the stupidest of the massed twists that close the picture.


Shyamalan folds several threats into a careering drama, but we are mainly concerned with three young women that Kevin (or one version of Kevin) imprisons in the basement. Anya Taylor-Joy, so good in The Witch, plays the inevitable Final Girl with great gusto.

In its closing, deranged reveal, Split nods towards Shyamalan loyalists who have stayed the pace. These fans have been patient, and Night rewards them with a rollicking thriller that suggests Brian De Palma at his least polite. Cautiously recommended.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist