Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy & Betty Buckley
Synopsis: Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, and must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful 24th.
Rating: 15 Duration: 117 minutes Release date: 20 January
It’s not easy these days to go into a film completely cold. With websites and magazines eager to please fans who want to over-analyse every bit of information regarding a film before it’s released in cinemas, the trend is usually to want to know everything before you’ve even seen one frame of celluloid. Maybe it’s because I’m from a different generation or maybe it’s more to do with my personal tastes, but I prefer to know as little about a film as possible before going to the cinema. With that, it’s rare to go in completely cold to a film, but it’s with much joy that I did just that with Split. Whether this enhanced my viewing experience or not is up for debate, but I can safely say that without any sort of expectation, I genuinely loved Split.
While out on a shopping trip, three girls are approached and subsequently kidnapped by a physically imposing man called Dennis (McAvoy). Dennis takes the girls to an unknown location and it would appear that he has some very dark designs on them. Dennis has the look of a man who could seriously hurt someone if he wanted to, but comes unstuck when his severe OCD kicks in and his sense of order is broken. Dennis, we later learn, was the victim of childhood abuse and that abuse has created a multiple personality disorder within him. This is not the sort of scenario we saw in Me, Myself & Irene and as such Split takes a darker, more sinister turn with Dennis, or Kevin, displaying 23 distinct personalities that are fighting for attention while another is on its way.
M. Night Shyamalan, he of The Sixth Sense fame has had something of an up and down career. His first two films made clever use of final act twists and cemented Shyamalan’s place as one of Hollywood’s most popular directors. But then came the likes of Lady in the Water and The Happening. It marked a steep down-turn in fortunes for Shyamalan and his films were quickly being ridiculed. It’s taken time for the director to get things back on track, but it would seem he has finally done just that with Split. While it is hardly ground breaking, Shyamalan has a certain knack for drawing out tension and surprises and when he’s on form it is keenly felt by the audience. There are bursts of humour that feel natural and don’t detract from the film, while the sense that these three girls are in very real danger never falters.
No one has ever doubted the talent that James McAvoy possesses, but his turn here is arguably his most impressive performance yet. Playing multiple characters all with their own unique traits would be a hard task for any actor, but McAvoy makes it look positively easy. Each is played with a genuine desire to showcase their differing aspects and McAvoy’s ability to turn each one on and off is a wonder to watch.
At times Split is not so subtle and deals with some matters that it may have been better leaving in the editing room and it may push the illusion of disbelief at times, but Split remains a thoroughly entertaining film with a superb central performance from McAvoy.