There are really two endings to Split. The first is McAvoy’s character’s transformation into The Beast and subsequent showdown with Casey. The Beast is a personality so powerful that it makes its body superhumanly strong and impervious to harm. It also decides to kill and cannibalize anyone who has not experienced suffering in their lives. Or as The Beast describes them, the “untouched”.
There are multiple flashbacks throughout the movie, gradually revealing that Casey’s uncle has been molesting her since she was a young child. It provides a solid explanation for Casey’s behavior and how well she has navigated through the movie. And those flashback scenes are thankfully handled with an appropriate amount of restraint and horror.
This revelation is also what leads to Casey’s survival. After The Beast has killed the other kidnapped girls and the therapist, Casey is trapped by him/it until The Beast notices the many scars on Casey from the molestation she’s suffered from her uncle. Declaring that she is “pure”, The Beast lets Casey live and escapes.
When the police eventually find her, Casey is told that her uncle is there to pick her up. We do not see what her response to this is, apart from an ambiguous close-up, because the movie ends its time with Casey here. I appreciate the movie not offering a simple solution to the abuse that Casey is going through, but it does leave the audience with a weird feeling at the end of this movie.
At least, it would, if that were actually the end of the movie.
Here’s the thing, Split is an inherently silly concept of a movie. What makes it work is how well-executed it is. You are drawn in and believe what is happening because of Shyamalan’s skilled direction and the great performances from McAvoy and Taylor-Joy. But the actual ending, regardless of your opinion of it, doesn’t accomplish this same feeling. And that is because it takes you completely out of the story that you’ve just experienced.
The last scene of this movie takes place in a diner, where news coverage of Casey’s ordeal with McAvoy’s character, now named “The Horde” by the media, is being reported. Someone mentions that they are reminded of a terrorist who was in a wheelchair that was arrested some years ago, but can’t remember the terrorist’s name.
A man sitting next to her says that the terrorist’s name was Mr. Glass, and that man is none other than David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis. From M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Unbreakable.
What this ending accomplishes is both exciting and frustrating.
On the positive end, this means that we are getting a continuation of one of Shyamalan’s best films, with McAvoy and Taylor-Joy added to the powerhouse combination of Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. Unbreakable is a film that approaches the superhero origin story from a very unique perspective. In retrospect, Split being a unique supervillain origin story should have been a hint, although there are little clues regarding this connection throughout the movie, specifically Crumb’s connection to a train accident.
On the frustrating end, this ending almost completely takes away your focus from what has happened in Split, resulting in either an excited “Oh my god, this is an Unbreakable sequel/spinoff!” or, for those who haven’t seen Unbreakable, “What the hell is Bruce Willis doing here? And who’s Mr. Glass?” The effectiveness of this ending depends on having seen another movie.
And this ties into a larger problem that Hollywood has these days: the need for cinematic universes. As someone who adores the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I can also acknowledge that quite a few of those movies have trouble functioning as standalone experiences. The Incredible Hulk ends with a scene very similar to Split, where Tony Stark makes a random appearance that teases the forthcoming Avengers crossover. It’s a scene that, like Split, takes away your focus on the movie you just watched and serves as a tease for a movie that doesn’t exist yet. It’s not a conclusion to the story that The Incredible Hulk tells, but a bonus scene.
Marvel eventually realized that the place for scenes like this were during and after the credits. It allows the movie itself to end the story it is telling, and for the audience to not feel unsatisfied with an end scene that doesn’t make sense without having seen another Marvel movie.
Now, would the last scene of Split work better as a post-credits scene? Yes, I believe it would. But do I understand why it’s the last scene instead? Yes. Marvel movies are now famous for their post-credits scenes, and those who want to see scenes that expand on or tease the future of the MCU know to stay after the movie ends. But that wasn’t the case in 2008 when The Incredible Hulk was released. Most people didn’t realize that all of these new Marvel Studios movies were connected or leading to an Avengers movie. I remember that it took a while for people to notice that the first Iron Man had a post-credits scene where Samuel L. Jackson showed up as Nick Fury.
Putting the Tony Stark scene at the end of The Incredible Hulk, and the David Dunn scene at the end of Split, makes certain that an audience is aware of the connection between the movie they’ve just seen and another movie.
But it is really frustrating that Split, a movie that functions incredibly well on its own, had to have an ending like this in order to accomplish that connection reveal. I admit to geeking out upon hearing the theme from Unbreakable start to play before David Dunn’s reveal, but movies can’t keep approaching sequels like this. I have full faith in Shyamalan delivering a fun ride with the upcoming Unbreakable/Split follow-up, Glass, but I wish that connection could have been revealed in a more organic way than this. Because now Split is more defined to people as a surprise Unbreakable sequel than as a very effective standalone thriller.