James McAvoy delivers a riveting performance as a man with 23 personalities in Split, the latest thriller from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. Coming off a lengthy run of critically panned movies, M. Night returns to his The Sixth Sense form with this chilling psychological horror film. Split proves Shyamalan still has entertaining stories to tell and that he can still deliver an ending with an unexpected ‘gotcha’ twist.
McAvoy plays Kevin Crumb, a man with dissociative identity disorder whose many personalities struggle for control. We catch up with him at a period in his life when the least desirable and most dangerous of his personalities has taken control. Forcing the other personalities into submission, two terrifying personalities – clean freak Dennis and matronly Miss Patricia – mind the store, so to speak, making the decisions while completely suppressing all but one of the other personalities. Hedwig, an enthusiastic nine-year old, sides with Dennis and Patricia in their quest for control of Kevin’s mind and body. Hedwig’s allowed to be the dominant personality on occasion, but he’s kept in line by Dennis and Patricia’s talk of a terrifying entity.
Free of the shackles of other personalities, Dennis kidnaps three high school students – best friends Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), plus outcast Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) – and locks them up in his underground lair. Kevin’s other personalities use what little time they can manage to be in charge to send urgent emails and texts seeking help from their psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who begins to wonder what’s going on that has Kevin’s personalities so anxious and afraid.
M. Night Shyamalan made absolutely the right choice in casting McAvoy in the lead role. McAvoy is completely convincing in his portrayal of multiple personalities jockeying for control within one man. It’s a wildly divergent batch of characters that McAvoy throws himself into, the best of which is a fashionista named Barry who’s flamboyant and non-threatening. McAvoy’s such a chameleon that each of the personalities introduced to the audience is fully fleshed out and a complete individual. He deftly slips from character to character, going all in on each one and making it easy for the audience to differentiate who’s who.
McAvoy grabs so much of your attention that the performances of the three actresses who play the kidnapped girls, as well as the always terrific Betty Buckley, are overshadowed. Of the three kidnap victims, it’s The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy who stands out and who gives us someone we can root for. Taylor-Joy’s Casey quickly transforms from victim to fighter, defiantly standing up to her kidnapper even when the odds are heavily stacked against her escape.
Split has a few decent jump scares but it’s McAvoy’s performance more than any single scene that makes this horror film such a wild ride. Oh, and that ending! Shyamalan has reason to be proud of Split’s twist. I can pretty much guarantee no one will see it coming.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language
Release Date: January 20, 2017
Running Time: 117 minutes