[MAJOR SPOILERS for Split ahead.]
The Shyamalanaissance is real. M. Night Shyamalan famously entered a massive slump in the naughties, following up his success on films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable with a series of critical duds that include Lady in the Water, The Happening and The Last Airbender. Following the out-right failure of After Earth, however, Shyamalan did some course correction. The director’s 2015 film The Visit saw him take a step back, making a low-budget movie high on ideas. Now Shymalan has followed that project up with Split, his most layered movie in well over a decade. It may not quite balance its campy tone – too weird to be fully scary and too intense to be overly funny – but it’s a film full of interesting concepts and set-pieces. And what an ending!
Shyamalan’s movies always have complicated endings that leave you with boundless questions and lots to discuss and Split may be the most overwhelming one yet. There’s a drip-feed of information about the main plot, a frankly haunting background to one of the main characters and, without a hint of hyperbole, arguably the best twist that Shyamalan has executed since The Sixth Sense.
Split (read our review) follows three high school girls who are kidnapped after a birthday party and locked up by Kevin, a man (James McAvoy) with 23 distinct personalities hidden within him. Two of the darker personalities have taken over and hope to use the girls as part of a dark evolutionary plan, leading to a film that’s one part mystery, one part horror, one part out-there, Shyamalan-style. But what does it all mean?
Split Ending & Final Twist Explained:
What Was Up With Kevin?
McAvoy’s “main” character is Kevin, a regular guy who due to a series of traumatic childhood events (we’re told he was left by his father and mistreated by his mother) has created a string of alternative personalities, most of which are mentally stronger than he was initially. In this world, dissociative identity disorder doesn’t just lead to a psychological change, but also a physical one; Kevin is able to actually alter his body with each switch, meaning some personalities can have OCD and need glasses, while others need insulin shots. Who Kevin is in any given moment depends on who has stepped into “the light” in his mind, something typically controlled by the personality known as Barry.
In the movie itself, the core personalities we meet are Dennis, Patricia, Hedwig and Barry. The former two – who call themselves the Horde – are the darker sides of Kevin, who have previously been pushed down by Barry and the rest but break out by manipulating the childlike Hedwig, who is able to take control of the light at will. Others try and break through to make a cry for help, but the Horde repeatedly pushes them back. It’s important to note that while this is Kevin’s body, his personality doesn’t seem complicit in either side of this – when he finally does emerge, he begs to be killed, revealing that even though Barry and co are the good guys, they’re still going against the original personality’s will.
The Horde’s plan is to “unleash the Beast”, a mythical (at least in Kevin’s psyche) 24th personality. It’s only alluded to in the film, but it appears to be based on the animals in the zoo above where Kevin lives. In the third act, the Beast breaks out thanks to Dennis and kills two of the kidnapped girls, but allows protagonist Casey to live due to her own troubled past (which we’ll get to in a minute). After this murder spree, Kevin appears to have reached a point where the Horde is in full control and are able to bring the indestructible Beast out at will, making it him an almost Jekyll and Hyde superhero. And, yes, superhero really is the word.