Sunday, January 22, 2017

Review: Split

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
The occasionally creepy and often silly "Split" is M. Night Shyamalan's most successful effort in 15 years, although the caveat is that it's still just partially effective and some strong material therein is not utilized to its maximum effect.

The film spends a minimum amount of time with its characters before jumping right into the action. Three teenage girls - Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) - are kidnapped in a parking lot by a man known as Kevin (James McAvoy), who has 23 distinct personalities functioning in his body, several of which are malevolent.

The girls awaken in a locked room in a dungeon-like basement where Kevin or his alternate personalities - the boy Hedwig, the woman Patricia and sinister man Dennis, all three of which are among the evil ones - tend to them and make reference to the arrival of The Beast, a 24th personality to which they will be sacrifices.

Meanwhile, Betty Buckley's Dr. Fletcher, a good hearted psychoanalyst who specializes in patients with multiple personalities, believes that there is something amiss in Kevin and that he is, perhaps, purposefully hiding away some of his darker personalities from her during their meetings.

The three girls, all the while, are attempting to plot an escape, mostly via appealing to Hedwig's "innocence" and tricking him into leading them out of the underground maze where they are kept. After two of the girls make their own attempts at escape, they are locked into separate rooms and Casey - who is given a backstory involving molestation that is as intriguing as it is tastelessly revealed - realizes that she has to take the lead on overcoming Kevin and his multiple personalities.

McAvoy's characters run the gamut. Dennis and Patricia are creepy personalities that the actor carries off effectively, while an obviously gay fashion designer character isn't quite as believable and Hedwig is the most annoying. If there were an award for the most acting, McAvoy would surely win it. It's easy to admire his dedication to the role - um, roles - even if several of them are not particularly believable.

There's also a twist in the very last scene of the picture that connects it to a previous Shyamalan picture. The moment is simultaneously inspired and ridiculous, which also describes "Split" as a whole. After more than a decade of flops - from the mediocre "The Village" to the outright bombs "After Earth" and "The Last Airbender" - it's nice to see Shyamalan getting back to the spooky thrillers that originally gained him acclaim. But "Split" is appropriately titled - it's partially successful and, on occasion, foolish.

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