After three girls are kidnapped by a man with 24 distinct personalities they must find some of the different personalities that can help them while running away and staying alive from the others.
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Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense
) has made a career out of making unpredictable movies. So much so that audiences started to be able to predict how he would be unpredictable. However, a couple of years ago, he teamed up with uber-producer Jason Blum (from the Insidious
and The Purge
franchises) to make The Visit
, and his career experienced a bit of a renaissance because of it. Riding on that momentum, Shyamalan has once again tapped Blum to produce his newest movie, the psychological thriller Split
is about a trio of girls named Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch
), Claire (The Edge of Seventeen
's Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula from "Skins") who are abducted by a crazy guy named Kevin (James McAvoy from Victor Frankenstein
). Except, whenever Kevin comes to talk to them, he's never the same person; sometimes he's the dead-serious Dennis, sometimes he's the homosexual fashionista Barry, sometimes he's the nine-year-old Hedwig. All of Kevin's twenty-three personalities say the same thing, though - that he took the girls in order to feed the twenty-fourth personality, a really mean one who should be making an appearance shortly. Unaware that he has kidnapped the girls, Kevin's psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley from Carrie
and "Eight is Enough"), struggles to solve the mystery of his disorder while the girls frantically search for a way to escape his clutches before his most frightening personality emerges.
While it's a stretch to call it uneven, there is a bit of an ebb and flow to Split
. The initial concept is brilliant, and the engaging pace that it sets keeps up for a good half of the movie. At that point, things start to slow down and derail a little bit, but the climax reels it all back in. It's a fun ride, despite the erratic pacing. A tense, suspenseful, nail-bitingly fun ride.
The whole movie feels as if M. Night Shyamalan is having just as much fun bringing it to life as his audience is having watching it. Kevin Wendell Crumb is the best character (or characterS, as the case may be, with an 'S') that Shyamalan has come up with in years. He's just sympathetic enough to be interesting, but not so much that you forget he's the villain. He's a bad guy, but he's a bad guy that the audience will love to hate.
The first thing people want to know about a Shyamalan movie is whether or not there's a twist, and of course there is. But Split
has a much more subtle twist than audiences are used to getting from Shyamalan. There's no hammer-hitting, jaw-dropping revelation in the third act that changes everything. The twist also comes much later than usual, so make sure you stick around. It may sound like I'm downplaying it, but It's worth it.
But enough about the Shyamalanian twist. Even without the very end of the last scene, Split
stands up as a thrill-ride of a movie. It looks like The Visit
was no fluke. M. Night Shyamalan and Blumhouse make a great team.
James McAvoy owns Split
, pure and simple. His performance is incredible. Make that performances, since he is able to skillfully swap between all of Kevin's multiple personalities without missing a step. McAvoy doesn't tackle all twenty four of the characters inside of Kevin's head, only six or seven of them, but he nails the subtle little things that distinguish each one, even when they're trying to impersonate each other. And, as the film moves towards its frenetic climax, he switches personalities mid-scene, sometimes mid-sentence, and makes it all look effortless.
For her part, Anya Taylor-Joy is good in her faux-Final Girl role, going toe-to-toe with McAvoy, rising up to her challenges with both determined strength and awkward resilience. Taylor-Joy is the next big thing in the horror world, and her performance in Split
will help solidify that role for her.
Although there's no doubt that Split
is about as much of a horror movie as M. Night Shyamalan has ever made, it's still more of a tense thriller than a scream-out-loud kind of movie. It does have its moments, though. The senseless kidnapping and imprisonment of the three heroines is a realistically horrifying situation. McAvoy's performance is creepy as hell, with him simmering just underneath the surface, the audience (and the other characters) never knowing if (or when) he's going to blow. There's a lot of heart-racing and pulse-pounding sequences, but the actual scares are few. That doesn't mean that Split
won't stick with you, only that it's more exhilarating than frightening.