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M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Split’ hits theaters

February 4, 2017

 

James McAvoy plays a man diagnosed with 23 distinct personalities. – Universal Pictures

 

DILLON NELSON
Staff Reporter | djn005@latech.edu

 

After 2015’s “The Visit,” M. Night Shyamalan’s minor comeback of a film, “Split,” comes off as him hitting his stride.  This psychological thriller is an imperfect love letter to those who have stuck with him through the good times and the “Another Earth” times.

 

At first “Split” looks like the type of straightforward thriller he has never really been known to make. All signs point to a basic formula at first, but the film soon reveals itself to be the director at the fullest of his powers.

 

The first hint of this is the the kidnapping of high schoolers Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) by Kevin (James McAvoy) — a short, pulse-pounding sequence bookended by throwback, stylized credits.

 

From there, Shyamalan gradually lets rip the thrills big and small (through the odd expositional lull here and there). He really seems to have put extra effort into making this his most visually-distinct film by adding numerous, intentionally-obvious splits and camera tricks to serve as thematic conduits.

 

Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (from the great, atmospheric “It Follows”) sets the mood for each well-edited scene and helps keeps the psycho-drama flowing. His disorienting, stylistic flourishes helps the film bounce between the darkness of Kevin’s underground dungeons and the lighter scheme in the office of his faithful psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) seamlessly.

 

McAvoy, it must be said, cannot be commended enough for playing the splits in Kevin’s dissociative identity disorder so well. Often going from total wackjob to zen-mode in the same scene, this performance is a masterclass in erratic acting. His performance cleverly ends up doing most of the heavy lifting of the character and plot development of “Split.”

 

The best leads in his Shyamalan films are able to straddle the line between hammy and serious, and he would do well to keep McAvoy in his stable of actors for future films. He is able to elicit both the laughs and gasps Shyamalan’s films are built on. His 9-year-old persona “Hedgwick” is both hilarious and unnerving, while another persona (it must be seen to be believed) kicks “Split” into genuinely horrifying mode during the third act.

 

Though the fact that the film never does truly deliver on the 23 personalities from the film’s advertising is a tad disappointing at first, the way they are eventually deployed admittedly ends up making sense. For the most part, everything is surprisingly and satisfyingly weaved together with a supernatural touch. Given the portentous references to a prophesied 24th personality that Kevin’s dominant personalities seem to be preparing for (“he’s coming for you” they continually tell the girls), this is only a slight gripe which can be easily forgotten.

 

As with most Shyamalan movies, there are twists and more twists as the movie winds down. It is a bit overlong, yet none of it feels forced or hacky even as it gets a wee silly. “Split” gives the sense that Shyamalan understands his current place in the world and gives no reason to believe he will stumble with his next step.

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