by Sherry Lipp
The Lowdown: M. Night Shyamalan’s Split is a tense, unsettling thriller that offers a tour de force performance from James McAvoy.
In M. Night Shyamalan’s Split James McAvoy plays a man inhabited by 23 different personalities who are warring with each other over their different beliefs. It’s tough when different beliefs drive people apart, but what happens when it’s inside one’s own head? Alright, Split isn’t a serious look at dissociative identity disorder, but it is an unsettling one. McAvoy shines as he effortlessly shifts from one disparate personality to the other. Split is thriller that keeps the audience guessing to the end and even after (but don’t ask me about that part, you’ll have to see it).
Three teen girls pile into a car after a birthday party waiting while the dad of the birthday the girl to load her many gifts into the trunk. It’s clear right from the start that one of the three is different than the other two. Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the outcast who has only been invited to the popular girls’ party out of pity. Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) are the popular girls who would rather Casey be anywhere but getting a ride home from them.
Suddenly the girls realize the man who had gotten into the driver seat is not Claire’s dad, but a total stranger. It’s terrifying. This could happen at any shopping mall anywhere. What happens next is even more terrifying because we don’t know what’s going on at all.
Split isn’t a jump out and get you kind of film. It’s a thriller that is bent on letting what you imagine might happen build in your mind to build the tension. The girls are locked away in a hidden room and soon begin to meet the man’s, Kevin, many different personalities. One is a prim and proper British lady who tells them “he knows he’s not allowed to touch them.” It’s hard to feel relieved by this revelation considering the source. Casey is able to befriend “Hedwig” who says he is nine years old and loves to dance.
It’s when Kevin becomes the meticulous Dennis that things get really scary. McAvoy’s subtle facial movements tell us that Dennis means business and he’s not to be messed with. What we don’t know is what any of these personalities really want. All we know is that the girls are special and something is coming – and that something is something they’re (and we’re) not going to like.
Betty Buckley (the nice teacher in Carrie) is a welcome addition to the film as Kevin’s attentive therapist. She’s Kevin’s only champion and may offer the only way out of the labyrinth of his mind. Though the film goes just to the edge of too far in some respects, it’s saved by the fully committed performances of McAvoy and Taylor-Joy. And since we’re talking about M. Night Shyamalan, do I even need to say that twist was unexpected.
Split Images: Universal Pictures