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Three Views: Split

January 21, 2017

Split Review By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

split-posterM. Night Shyamalan has had a rocky career following his early successes like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, slowly segueing into self-parody in the years that followed.  But now the director has returned with Split, a ludicrous and often entertaining thriller that continues his recent resurgence of sorts, even if it still can’t quite match his best work.

The film opens with three high schoolers, popular girls Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) and shy outcast Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), being kidnapped after a birthday party by a strangely calm man named Kevin (James McAvoy), who takes them back to a mysterious location and locks them in a room.

As it turns out, Kevin has dissociative identity disorder, with 23 distinct personalities and a monstrous 24th one referred to as “The Beast” that is at risk of being unleashed, posing a series of unique threats to the girls.  The only one who understands the depths of his rare disorder is his psychiatrist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who finds him to be a fascinating case study upon their frequent visits, but even she might not be able to intervene before something truly terrible happens.

Watching the different personalities be revealed is one of the most entertaining parts of Split, as Casey comes to find some understanding of Kevin’s tortured psyche.  The film serves as one hell of an acting showcase for James McAvoy, with the actor forced to switch between the obsessive-compulsive Dennis, the flamboyant fashion designer Barry, the stern older woman Patricia who has a British accent, and even a scared little boy named Hedwig who talks with a lisp.  It’s the sort of role that actors dream of, and James McAvoy gives it his all, delivering a go-for-broke performance that sometimes chews up the scenery but is eminently watchable and impossible not to admire.

The character seems to be partially inspired by the real life case of Billy Milligan, who was accused of rape in the 1970s but was acquitted in court because of the variance in memories of his two dozen different personalities, which ranged between different cultures, genders, ages and orientations.  Billy Milligan ended up spending a decade in a psychiatric hospital because of his crimes.  While Split does use the correct terminology to describe dissociative identity disorder, the film breaks from scientific understanding of mental illness after a certain point and instead uses the disorder as a segway into supernatural territory, which is when the whole thing starts feeling somewhat over the top.

The film does share some similarities to recent surprise hits like 10 Cloverfield Lane and Don’t Breathe, which also featured protagonists trapped in confined spaces with unpredictable psychos, but it doesn’t reach the same heights as those superior chillers.  The thing is, Split isn’t all that scary, and more settles for popcorn thrills than genuine horror.  There are some nicely handled moments of suspense, where M. Night Shyamalan shows his gift for crafting tension, but there is also an air of predictability to where things are going to end up, despite some macguffins along the way.  The most disturbing scenes are actually flashbacks to a hunting trip, which play on real terror of the trauma inflicted by abuse.

This is a fun little thrill ride of a movie that gets the job done, but it’s also inherently ridiculous, and the type of thing that is more meant to be casually enjoyed by genre fans instead of closely scrutinized.  The film is actually more effective before it delves into fantasy at the end, and the closest thing it’s got to one of the filmmaker’s signature twists is a surprise that happens during the end credits.  But Split sure is entertaining while it’s on, largely thanks to James McAvoy’s performance, which is a blast to watch.

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Hedwig (James McAvoy) in Split

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Split Review By Erin Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

M. Night Shyamalan’s newest film Split is a horror-thriller, that centres around a man named Kevin (James McAvoy) with a movie-version of split personality (Disassociative Identity Disorder – DID).

When the film opens, three teenage girls are kidnapped by Kevin’s current dominant personality Dennis, who, along with the personalities of Patricia and Hedwig, is keeping the girls captive for a nefarious purpose.  Two of the girls – Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) – are best friends, and the other is an outcast at their school who they reluctantly had at their party when the three were taken.  It is this other girl, Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), who gets the most development in Split, and her backstory provides an interesting level that in some ways makes her able to relate to Kevin and his personalities.  As she tries to befriend the 9-year-old personality Hedwig, we see that she may be realizing the only possible way out.

The problems in the film line mainly in the fact that it is never as suspenseful as a film like this should be.  There were never really jump moments and it was fairly predictable throughout.  However, it is interesting due to the ability McAvoy has to portray the different personalities, and for that the film is worth checking out.  Kevin moves between 24 personalities – 23 at the beginning of the film, and the other on its way to being released.  Obviously, especially towards the end as a supernatural element starts to come into play, the film cannot be taken as an strictly accurate representation of DID.

Overall, Split is a fairly entertaining January release, that doesn’t quite live up to the potential it could have had.  While it’s not a must-see, for those either into mild horror-thriller films or Shyamalan’s previous films, it is worth checking out if you get a chance.

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Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) in Split

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Split Review By Tony Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Split is the latest thriller from M. Knight Shyamalan in which three teenage girls: Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) are abducted by a person born as Kevin (James McAvoy). Kevin is under the care of Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), a psychiatrist specializing in DPD (dissociative personality disorder), who believes that multiple personalities also include different physical traits. Out in public as Barry, Kevin refers to himself with Dr. Buckley in the plural, and she has managed to bring “to the light” all but one of the 24 members of his “horde”, the last being the malevolent enhanced “beast”.

Most of the horde are benign, but the girls are abducted by Dennis and Patricia, who live with nine-year-old Hedwig. Claire and Marcia behave as expected, but right from the beginning we know that Casey is different, and flashbacks reveal issues in her own past that equip her to deal with the horde on a different level.

I am not a huge fan of Knight (as he is known to his friends), and this film, despite the trademark suspense and creepiness, doesn’t always make much sense; though as with some of his other work, it may require another viewing to appreciate it. As expected, James McAvoy is certainly impressive in his multiple roles, and Anya Taylor-Joy is just as brilliant bringing out Casey’s disturbed intensity. A sequel is expected with the beast and more of his friends and foes.

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Consensus: Although Split is sometimes hard to take seriously, the thriller signifies a step back in the right direction for M. Night Shyamalan, and is kept entertaining thanks to an impressive acting showcase by James McAvoy in the lead role. ★★½ (out of 4)

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