The kidnapping of three girls is at the heart of the story of Split, the new movie from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. Those three friends are taken to a hiding place where no one will be able to find them. But they’re being held by a man they sometimes know as Dennis (James McAvoy), whose intentions and motives for taking and holding them are unclear.
Complicating matters is that Dennis suffers from extreme split personalities, with as many as 23 personas living inside of him. Some of them are nicer than others, ranging from a child-like personality to that of a kindly old woman. The girls try to find one that will help them escape, but all seem to know that it’s important they stay where they are, but why no one knows.
There’s not much to the first teaser poster. It’s just the title and Shyamalan’s name, meaning there’s the expectation his name alone will be enough to bring people to the theater.
The second poster focused on McAvoy’s Kevin, showing a closeup of him so we could see his crazy eyes, with the image shattered like the glass of a frame that’s been broken to help symbolize the fractured personalities. Those personalities are also the focus of the copy, which promises a 24th persona is about to be unleashed from within him.
The next one uses the same copy but this time shows Kevin far off from the camera, with a number of shadows looming on the floor in front of him including three normal sized one and one huge, monstrous figure. We’re meant to connect that with the copy about another personality that’s about to break free.
A final version takes a slightly more artistic approach, showing a silhouette of David’s profile, with a crack running down the middle of him that smaller figures are trying to crawl out of. The same copy is used but this one makes things a bit more figurative and less explicit, making it the most interesting of the bunch.
The first trailer is creepy as all get out. It opens with the camera, obviously from someone’s point of view, approaching a man in a mall parking lot or garage who’s loading bags into his car trunk. We cut then to the inside of the car, where three girls are waiting for the dad to get in. But it’s someone else and when they question him he knocks them out. They awake in a murder bunker, being told that they’re there for an important reason. Later they see what they think is someone else but is actually Kevin in women’s clothing, having let that personality take over. As the trailer goes on we see more of Kevin’s split personalities, which are explained to us thanks to some exposition from a psychiatrist who seems to be treating – or at least studying – him. We find out the girls are there for “The Beast,” an unseen creature who may or may not be real but is definitely a threat to the girls in the here and now.
I actually kind of like this a lot. You can see where the twists are going to be based on the plot but not too much is explained outright in the trailer itself. The real treat is McAvoy, though, who cycles through the different personalities effortlessly and seems to be having a lot of fun letting different characters out for different reasons. If there’s a strong attraction in the trailer, it’s him.
A second trailer is much more concerned with Kevin’s psychosis than the first trailer was. We get the same setup of the girls being kidnapped but from there on out the focus is largely on Kevin and the various personalities vying for dominance in his mind. We hear constantly how disturbed he is and then get a similar payoff of the girls being prepared for something nasty and terrible.
There’s a way that this trailer hints at the big reveal that the first trailer didn’t at all. Not saying what’s shown here is actually what happens, but there are clues dropped that all add up to one possible direction. Other than that it’s just as strong an effort as the first one.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website is built on Tumblr and starts off by playing the second trailer as soon as it loads. At the top of the page are links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles that were created for the movie.
There are just two actual sections of content on the site. First is “About” which is where you can read a decent synopsis of the movie’s story. Second is the “Gallery” of production stills to scroll through and take a look at the movie.
Scroll down the page and there’s all sorts of content that’s been posted to the Tumblr blog. You can sort through those a bit with the “Videos,” “Images” and GIFs” tabs that are available.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A few TV spots were run that did what they could to spoil the movie’s big twist. They play like shortened versions of the trailer, showing off some of the personalities rattling around in Dennis’ head for the most part, using the kidnapping of the girls only loosely. It’s all about McAvoy’s performance more than anything.
Those TV spots and trailers were used as social ads on Twitter and Facebook while key art was used for other online advertising. It’s an easy guess that outdoor ads were run as well.
Media and Publicity
The movie made its first public appearance at Fantastic Fest where it racked up near-universal accolades for the terrifying story, with many people calling it a return to form for Shyamalan.
Shyamalan sat for a number of interviews to talk about the story of the movie, why he made it and more. There seemed to be a narrative that this was the final piece of a comeback for the director after a few years of flops and critically-lambasted movies. Similarly, McAvoy did the rounds to talk about working with the director and how he got into a role that demanded such quick turns in order to play all the personalities without dipping into parody.
Shyamalan is obviously at the center of the campaign, almost as much as McAvoy is. While the director hasn’t exactly been consistent since The Sixth Sense brought him into the spotlight with its twist ending, he still has a ton of mainstream audience name recognition, which is why that name and his previous work is plastered all over the assets for this movie. How that will or won’t work depends on whether or not you associate his name more with Unbreakable or The Happening, but it’s a card the studio would have been silly to not play and so it weighed the odds and made it happen.
The movie that’s being sold here is definitely a drama that has a number of twists. There’s certainly a big one involving “the beast” that’s referenced throughout that isn’t really addressed (though it kind of is) but other smaller ones about the breadth of Kevin’s personality disorder are clearly on display. That promises the audience that the usual Shyamalan twists and turns will be coming their way, so head to the theaters to see what happens. It’s a lot of setup and a lot of mystery that’s being shown off in the campaign, meaning it’s up to the movie to deliver on the promise being made.