Split (2016)

  • Time: 116 min
  • Genre: Horror | Thriller
  • Director: M. Night Shyamalan
  • Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley

Storyline:

When three girls are kidnapped by a man with 24 different personalities they have work out which of those personalities will help them escape and which of those personalities will will try to stop them. James McAvoy produces a master class performance playing the psychotic kidnapper and 24 roles.

3 reviews

  • M. Night Shyamalan has been slowly but surely working his way back from the critical and commercial disappointments that have plagued him since the terrific one-two punch of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable established him as the auteur du jour nearly two decades ago. Whilst not necessarily one of his better offerings, his latest film, the horror-thriller Split, should build on the goodwill he earned for 2015’s surprise hit, The Visit.

    The film begins with the kidnapping of three girls in broad daylight. Two of the girls, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), are good friends whilst the third, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), is an outsider who, as suggested by the flashbacks to her childhood, may have steel beneath her calm demeanour. The trio wake up in a windowless room and are welcomed by their captor.

    Or is it captors? There may be one man standing before them but within him are 23 personalities, with a potential 24th that may be the most dangerous of all. As the film listens in on the girls’ captor’s sessions with his psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), it is revealed that the man is afflicted with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and that his dominant personality, Barry, is under attack from his more troubled personalities, mainly Dennis and Patricia, who are responsible for the girls’ abduction and who drop more than subtle hints to the girls that they are to be offerings to a burgeoning personality named the Beast.

    There’s talk of how people with DID, most of whom have birthed their various personalities as a safeguard from past traumas, may be blessed with some form of supernatural powers. “Have these individuals, through their suffering, unlocked the potential of the brain?” Dr. Fletcher posits. “Is this the ultimate doorway to all things we call unknown. Is this where our sense of the supernatural comes from?” It’s an interesting premise that Shyamalan plays with here, and many may find it even more so once the director reveals his ultimate end game, though it’s slightly fumbled by placing it within such a lurid and often exploitative framework.

    Nevertheless, Shyamalan keeps audiences guessing and pulls off many a suspenseful scene with ease, even if the script’s often clunky coincidences and expositions threaten to undermine his efforts. The main (and arguably only) attraction though is James McAvoy, who is simply outstanding as Barry and Dennis and Patricia and…whatever other personality decides to “enter the light.” There’s one particularly astonishing scene when he cycles through about half a dozen characters within a handful of minutes, the camera never leaving his face, each transformation so complete and convincing that one almost wants to stand up and applaud.

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  • M. Night Shyamalan directed The Sixth Sense. To this day, that film still creeps me the heck out. It has taken seventeen years for Night to make my psyche go all frazzled again. Hence, I give you 2016’s Split (my latest review).

    Now the oddest thing about Split, is that it doesn’t feel like India’s favorite son was even behind the camera. Shyamalan takes on the personalities of other directors (just like Split’s main lead actor, ha). And the only thing similar is that his flick takes place in Philadelphia (Shyamalan’s hometown and go-to setting). Was there some Dan Trachtenberg or Sam Raimi influence involved? Oh for sure. Nevertheless, Split is traumatizing, upsetting, and unsettling. M. Night uses a handful of close-ups, effective flashbacks, and the absence of a blatant surprise twist to enhance his vision. Reluctantly, he gives his characters a few moments of screen time to breathe. Then his film puts them through torrid, psychological hell.

    Split isn’t ghostly scary or demon scary. It’s more on the tripped out, cognitive tip. Without a happy ending or any kind of loosening resolve, this film caused me to leave the theater shaken. Heck, my pulse felt totally out of order. Granted, I’m not giving Split a favorable rating for its entertainment value. I recommending it for how it affected me and how it gave me a corresponding feeling when I saw 2014’s Tusk. Hopelessness, raw fear, despair, gnawing demoralization. M. Night is back. Yup, he’s back with a spurred vengeance baby!.

    Anyway, Split is about a messed up individual, a stifling son of a bitch. Kevin Wendell Crumb (played by James McAvoy) is said individual and he has 23 personalities (“23” is a screwed up number to begin with). He kidnaps three young females and holds them captive below the famed, Philadelphia Zoo. In a candid interview, McAvoy said that he only played 9 of the 23 weirdos throughout the 117-minute running time. No matter. His performance is towering and startlingly good. You forget that a trouper is actually inhabiting this role. For the most part, you hold on to the fact that this is a real fracked person. As for his co-stars (Anna Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula), well they convey a realistic level of heightened distress. Douglas Aibel’s casting of these young, unknown thespians is right on. I would put them in another horror conundrum any day. Believe it.

    Overall, Split with its claustrophobia, its kind of movement for a sequel, and its sense of sunlight absence, is destined to become a classic. It’s M. Night Shyamalan’s way of giving the middle finger to all the critics who have ribbed him over the past 10-12 years. Oh and by the way, look for a Bruce Willis cameo at the end. Dang, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen old Brucie in an actual, mainstream movie. Also, be on the lookout for Betty Buckley as Crumb’s sympathetic psychologist. She was Miss Collins from 1976’s infamous Carrie. Welcome back Becky. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

    Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

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  • (RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5)

    GRADE: B-

    THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED

    IN BRIEF: James McAvoy’s performance(s) is (are) the real reason to see this flawed thriller.

    SYNOPSIS: Three teenagers are kidnapped and held captive by a deranged loner.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 57 mins.

    Dissociate Identity Disorder, a form of mental illness in which one has multiple personalities, is the inspiration for M. Night Shyamalan’s latest psychological thriller, Split. While the premise for his film is always intriguing, the execution is as mixed-up as his central character(s). One begins to wonder if the talented director/writer will ever find his true visionary self as well, but he is on his way to self discovery with this outing.

    Three teenagers (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) are abducted by a man who suffers from multiple split personalities, 23 and counting. James McAvoy plays Kevin aka Dennis / Patricia / Barry / Hedwig and other various individuals that possess this man at a moment’s notice. While this may be taking diversity to extremes, the film lays the groundwork for a taut thriller, especially with the director’s use of atmospheric visuals. He creates tension very well. If only his screenplay would have avoided stock characters and predictable outcomes.

    After setting up an effectively creepy and overused storyline, Mr. Shyamalan relies too heavily on his characters’ dumb reactions to situations that could have been easily (and logically) avoided during parts of the cat-and-mouse games. His screenplay has gapping leaps of logic and one too many plot contrivances that make little sense except to advance the action and make the film more suspenseful. Especially odd is the obsessive behavior of Kevin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), but you know where that is heading from their first session. There is a flashback story that fills in some exposition to one of the characters, but more development on that aspect was needed. Of course, there is also his trademark twist ending, and it worked well enough, just not very surprising or exciting.

    But it is Mr. McAvoy who impresses with his acting choices and he is terrific. With a wide range of quirks and subtlety, he play Kevin with the widest of strokes. Displaying extreme mood swings from childlike behavior or sudden violent tendencies, the actor brings the proper degree of menace and vulnerability in his many transitions. Ms. Taylor-Joy gives strong support as his sharp-witted adversary and Ms. Buckley adds greater depth to a standard rote role.

    Split is an entertaining film that use mental illness as a plot device to cheap thrills. And though Mr. Shyamalan remains in full control, except for a script that could have used a rewrite or two, it is his lead actor who rescues his film from its run-of-the-mill mediocre origins.

    ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

    Visit my blog at: http://www.dearmoviegoer.com

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