Split: Tour de force of terror!
I viewed the trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” with weary eyes. My love/hate affair with the prolific horror writer/director is no secret. But when I saw who starred in the movie, I sat up and took notice. I knew the movie would be worth seeing for their performances alone, if nothing else. Well I am happy to report that not only did those performances not let me down, neither did M. Night!
Doing what he does best, Shyamalan has culled bits and pieces of information on psychology and current headlines to inspire his thriller about three teen girls kidnapped and held hostage by a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder or what is more commonly called Multiple Personality Disorder. In true M. Night fashion, this is no ordinary wacko and this is no ordinary kidnapping. Slowly, insidiously, the fear turns to terror as a parade of personalities interact with the teens.
The incomparable James McAvoy sinks his teeth into the role (or should that be roles?) of the kidnapper. He bounces easily from a young boy to a stern task master to proper lady and so much more using nothing more than his gifts as an actor. Alternately sweet, funny and menacing, he is a joy and marvel to watch in his tour de force of terror. His range will astound those who haven’t kept up with his career, most notably the little seen “Filth” from 2013. Yeah, he might be fun to watch in those X-Men movies but they are not vehicles that let him show his incredible range and ability to get lost in a role.
One of the things I love about “Split” was M. Night’s decision to not make the teens brainless, shivering victims. They are smart, feisty and more than willing to fight back. Of course, there is always one to emerge from the pack with that little extra something from her past that makes her a formidable opponent. Last year I praised newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy for her breakout performance in “The Witch”. Well she was no one hit wonder! From scared to determined, Anya delivers a quiet but intense portrait of a victim hell bent on survival.
And once again M. Night Shyamalan does what he does best, deliberate, revealing direction with a heavy emphasis on flashbacks for character development. Every shot and prop is perfectly placed for revisiting as the story unfolds. Even as the credits are unfolding, he continues to color in the picture for you with little juicy details you might have missed the first time around. The technique was especially effective in “Signs” and it works beautifully here, too.
Of course, another M. Night hallmark is back: his cameo! This time he tries on a little comedy. I for one don’t hate his performances but I do think that much like a Tarantino cameo, it brings the whole pace of the movie to a stop and takes us out of our experience. Oh well.
Whether you are a fan or an on-the-fence fan like me, if you love smart horror you’ll find “Split” a gripping, fun ride. Oh yeah, and whatever you do, DO NOT LEAVE BEFORE THOSE CREDITS!
“Spit” casts a spell of 4 Red Vines for being super creepy classic
Previews of these movies were provided to me by the studios but it in no way affects my unbiased review.