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Review: Split – ” M. Night Shyamalan is back”

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After success with The Visit last year, and now Split, Avatar: The Last Airbender and After Earth may or may not be forgiven, but they definitely seem to have checked their helmer’s ego and M. Night Shyamalan is back.

Again produced by micro indie horror powerhouse Blumhouse (Paranormal Activity and The Purge), Night writes, directs and makes one of his trademark cameos, while James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) and Hayley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen) star in Split.

Kevin (McAvoy) has DID – dissociative identity disorder – and in the Shyama-verse of Split it is theorised by therapist Doctor Fletcher (Betty Buckley – The Happening) that each of his identities not only affects him mentally – but that he also adopts their physical strengths and weaknesses too. Kevin has twenty-three personalities and three of them have teamed up to kidnap and sacrifice teenage girls to summon an evil twenty-fourth: The Beast.

The unlucky teens are popular girls Claire (Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula – Skins) and the moody loner they gave a “pity invite” to: Casey (Taylor-Joy). The trio are locked away in a basement and frequently visited by Kevin’s various personalities. One, a ten-year-old boy named Hedwig, seems to be a manipulatable weakness and Casey (who luckily was taught survival skills by her dad) works on him while the others attempt to puzzle out an escape from the room. Meanwhile, Doctor Fletcher is beginning to be concerned by an uncommon amount of emails and visits from Kevin, and may be about to put the pieces together.

Buckley’s Doctor is great and grounds and validates the psycho psycho-babble, while also providing a traditionally unfeasible possible rescuer. Anna Taylor-Joy is a wonder and proves that The Witch was not a one-off. A remarkable young actress with pluck, inner strength, and plenty of charm – even when playing a damaged and unpopular goth – she is really one to watch out for, and gives McAvoy and all twenty-four of his performances a threat and challenge.

Hopefully McAvoy was paid twenty-four times his normal rate, because he earns every penny here, not just relying on costume changes to signal the switches, but telegraphing the new personalities emergences with subtle yet recognisable shifts in body language and speech. The only one that is not quite right is his Patricia personality, who is often smirk inducingly one wig away from being Mrs. Doubtfire.

I had forgotten how much fun top-of-his-game Shyamalan can be. Easily invoking fear and danger, with some added nasty this time around, his simple yet stylish shots unfold and unlock in interesting ways, and he as an abundance of narrative confidence that both makes the impossible swallowable and every little detail come to mean something. He even manages to turn what at first feels like a blatant ploy to get some of the girls clothes off into a smart and sad revealing turning point.

The signature Shyamalan ending is not quite a knockout like his previous twists, but it is then followed by an incredible postscript you’ll never see coming that will blow your mind and leave you excited, gasping and reeling. If Night can keep his tales of the unexpected to Blumhouse’s budgets then this renaissance could be highly rewarding for everyone – especially us.

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One Comment

  1. terrific movie, and that ending…wow.

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