Major spoilers for the new film Split follow.
Sure, the story heightens and changes, but for the most part, all the big turns are heavily foreshadowed. For instance, when the film’s villain, a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder played by James McAvoy, teases that there’s an as-yet-unseen 24th personality to join his other 23, you immediately realize that, yeah, this so-called “Beast” must exist, regardless of how much his therapist says otherwise.
No, this is just a modern riff on the werewolf tale, one that treats mental illness as a curse (in some weird ways) and features the standard teen girl outsider taken prisoner and forced to fend for herself. (Fortunately, the role of Casey is played by The Witch and Barry’s Anya Taylor-Joy, who’s an exciting young talent.)
In the end, her traumatic past — she was sexually abused by an uncle as a child, and now seems to live with that uncle after a family tragedy — is what gets her through the ordeal. She shows the Beast scars incurred from cutting herself, and it recognizes in her some sort of kindred spirit, leaving her alive and rushing off into the night. The final beat we get with Casey is an emergency worker’s reassurance that her uncle is there to pick her up.
But the movie doesn’t end there. There’s a scene right after the title screen, before the credits properly begin, and it made you either laugh with delight or cringe in horror at what Shyamalan apparently has planned for all of us.
Split doesn’t have a twist — it has an expansion pack
In video games, an expansion pack adds new characters, units, and levels to an already existing game. If you’ve wrung every drop of enjoyment out of the main game, an expansion will give you new toys to play with.
This is also true of Split. The main story over, the Beast having escaped into greater Philadelphia, and Casey having returned to her life, Shyamalan drops one last plot bomb. The last scene takes us to a diner where two girls are discussing Casey’s survival, talking about how the Beast reminds them of a prior criminal in the Philadelphia area (most Shyamalan films are set in Philly). The guy in the wheelchair. What was his name? they wonder.
And then Bruce Willis himself turns toward them (and toward the camera) to say the villain’s name was Mr. Glass. And you abruptly realize that Shyamalan intends Split as a sidequel to his 2000 film Unbreakable, which has gradually come to be considered one of his best.
In Unbreakable, Willis played a man named David, who survived a train crash and was guided to the realization that he possessed super strength by a comic book store owner named Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson). In the film’s denouement, we learn that Elijah — who has a rare disorder that makes his bones incredibly fragile — has been causing disasters around the city, in hopes of finding someone whose super strength would balance out his fragility. Elijah — now going by “Mr. Glass,” a nickname childhood bullies used to taunt him — is caught and sent to a mental hospital, as per the film’s closing titles.
Unbreakable is a neat little movie, made at a time when Shyamalan could seemingly do no wrong. (It was his follow-up to the Best Picture–nominated mega-smash The Sixth Sense.) And ever since its release, he’s talked about doing a sequel, though as his career has stagnated due to increasingly preposterous films — at least one of which I would consider his masterpiece — such a possibility has seemed more and more remote.
So the return of Willis’s David at the end of Split is a big deal for Shyamalan superfans. Is the director building out a Shyamalan shared universe? Will we see David and Casey team up to take down Mr. Glass and the Beast? Or will there be more films building out this unusual twist on the comic book–movie shared universe before the inevitable team-up?
We don’t have great answers just yet. For one thing, Split is the second film in Shyamalan’s return to his low-budget roots, after 2015’s The Visit, and as such has a smaller budget than Unbreakable. For another, the characters of Unbreakable are technically owned by Disney, while Shyamalan’s more recent work is being distributed by Universal and produced by the low-budget genre emporium Blumhouse. It’s much easier to license the characters for a one-scene cameo than to produce an entire new movie, though I imagine Shyamalan could navigate those hurdles.
Shyamalan spoke a bit about this to Entertainment Weekly, saying that the origins of Split lie in early drafts of Unbreakable:
This character, Kevin from Split, was in the original script of Unbreakable. The original draft of Unbreakable focused on David Dunn and Elijah as his mentor. Elijah tells him, “You’re a comic book character, go try it.” And instead of bumping into the Orange Suit Man, David bumps into one of Kevin’s personalities and goes to save the girls. So you’d have been watching the girls side of it the whole time. That was the outline.
The rest of the Entertainment Weekly interview has lots of fun tidbits about how the Split scene came to be — but no hard promises of an Unbreakable sequel.
But that final cameo turned me almost completely around on Split, which I had found occasionally assured (Shyamalan is one of the best directors working at staging and shooting terrifying action sequences) and occasionally lugubrious. It never finds a great way to tie Casey’s trauma to her present situation, and Shyamalan’s hallmark is tying emotion to genre elements.
But, hell, I want to see whatever crazy Shyamalaniverse the director can cook up. Why not throw Haley Joel Osment in there as a grown man who can see dead people? Or maybe the alien locked in the pantry from Signs could show up as well. The sky’s the limit, Night! Let’s make this happen.
Correction: The original version of this article identified the Bruce Willis scene as “post-credits.” It actually takes place after the title screen, but before the credits proper have begun to unspool. The article has been corrected.