M. Night Shyamalan where have you been? The prodigious director who has been out in the wilderness since 2004's The Village the fourth in a series of very well received films. M. Night's new film Split see's him return with a vengeance. Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the outsider in school. She is always in trouble spending most of her time in detention. She receives a mercy invite to super popular Claire's (Haley Lu Richardson's) birthday party. When Casey does not have a ride home, Clare's dad (Neal Huff) insist that he drive her home along with Claire's BFF Marcia (Jessica Sula.
The quartet are incepted by Dennis (James McAvoy) a meticulous individual who knocks out Mr. Benoit slips into the driver's seat of his car and kidnaps the girls. The captives find themselves in a basement room a dirty mixture of wood, iron and stone featuring two cots and a pristine bright white bathroom. The door unlocks, Dennis rushes in, looks at Marcia stating I choose you first and begins to drag her out of the room as she's pulled by, Casey tells her to wet herself. Marcia is returned quickly to the room, pants damp leaving the audience to wonder if prior experiences lead Casey to give that advise.
M. Night Shyamalan plays it more or less straight ahead in this piece. His central character Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy) suffers from dissociative identity disorder that manifested in 23 different personalities. The storyline uses the introduction and idiosyncrasies of each personalities to advance the plot but this disorder is more than a simple change of clothes or speech patterns. Each personality believe who they are and when they get control Kevin looks different physically due to the different physiology, mannerisms, ailments and IQ's. The second most developed character is Casey. The narrative includes flashbacks to her hunting as a little girl with her dad and Uncle. It's a happy memory of her father but also hints to an inappropriate relationship with her Uncle perhaps a clue to Casey's earlier recommendation to avoid an assault.
James McAvoy makes this film work. In another actor's hands the result could have been bordering on laughable or venturing towards the ridiculous. Initially the Dennis persona is in charge of Kevin but the suspense rises to a higher plain when measured female personality Patricia followed by 9 year old mischievous Hedwig make their debuts. Hedwig explains that all the persona are in one place with the one in charge getting the light. Hedwig can get the light anytime he wants which Patricia and Dennis discover wanting to use their new found control of Kevin to introduce a new personality The Beast. Anya Taylor-Joy's Casey meets McAvoy's level at just about every turn. While her co-captives rush to carry out the first thought that comes into their heads Casey wants to know more about their situation looking for the right opportunity to make a move. Betty Buckley is very effective as Dr. Karen Fletcher. She's Kevin's psychiatrist who normally meets Barry the fashion conscious persona tasked to keep the horde inside Kevin in line. She argues to colleagues that DID is more than multiple personalities as her patients display different accents, levels of physical strengths and physical ailments all in the same body.
Split is a psychological thriller driven by a villain that is cold and measured one moment then doey eyed and vulnerable the next. The two leads play well off each other as the thematic notions that the damaged ones are pure lies at the core of the story. West Dylan Thordson's score is key in setting the tones for many of the scenes and becomes more important as the action rolls along. M. Night has found his footing, rediscovered his mojo but be sure not to rush out of the theatre after end title as there is a small nugget still to come that's not to be missed.
*** 1/2 Out of 4.
Split | M Night Shyamalan | U.S.A. | 2017 | 117 Minutes.
Tags; DID, Kidnapping, Dungeon, Molestation, Cutting, Maintenance, Pure, Horror, Amtrak