‘Split’ Movie Review: James McAvoy shines as M Night Shyamalan returns to old form
M. Night Shyamalan is a long way from The Sixth Sense, his groundbreaking thriller, but finds a new dark inspiration with his latest film Split: multiple personalities. Unlike films like Psycho or Raising Cain, the disorder is not the twist as James McAvoy amazes as Kevin, a man juggling at least 23 personalities in this journey which begins with a kidnapping.
A High School birthday party ends with the two popular girls Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) stuck with the brooding outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and the shocking intervention of McAvoy’s character. The tension begins quickly as Shyamalan introduces these wildly different personae one at a time and the three girls reacting.
From a silly 9-year-old to a middle-aged pervert with OCD or a gay fashion addict and then to a nurturing woman, McAvoy swings the personality pendulum quickly and often. There are no tricks, catching CGI, just amazing dialogue and McAvoy. Changes in body language, facial expression, and accent are technique into transitioning between his various selves as they take “the light.”
While the second act drones on a bit and the “supernatural” element seems out of place, the frights mount as the tension rises. Visits to Kevin’s therapist gives the audience a chance to breath and try to put some pieces together.
With that said, Shyamalan is bent on keeping the audience guessing and he’s quite successful. The unsteady camera work is balanced against the extreme close-ups of McAvoy’s latest personality trip and you will feel immersed into Split.
Shyamalan writes his own rules for dissociative identity disorder and explains them ad nauseam, but it’s a small price to pay for a great thriller this early in the year. The last M. Night film, The Visit, return the director to his roots with a great script, tension and symbolism in the storytelling. Farewell After Earth, The Happening, The Last Airbender and even Lady in the Water, this is the great M. Night from a decade ago.
I won’t spoil it, but fans of Shyamalan will love the pseudo-post-credit scene which links the film to a previous work and yes, there is a brief cameo.
Split receives 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
A dramatic thriller of this sorts will have your mind racing and dominate the conversation for an hour after the film is over. Fans who hate slower, dialogue driven films will not be happy here, but not everything can be The Avengers. I hope McAvoy is credited with his work here and I look forward to seeing more of the vintage M. Night, welcome back Sir!