MacAvoy steals show in “Split”
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When social outcast Casey gets a ride home with peers Claire and Marcia from a birthday that Casey was begrudgingly invited to, the girls are suddenly kidnapped. The girls awaken to find themselves in the clutches of Kevin, a man with an extreme case of DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder).
As multiple personalities reveal themselves to the girls, it quickly becomes clear that Kevin is not someone to underestimate. Elsewhere, Dr. Fletcher, Kevin’s therapist, detects that something has changed in her patient as his visits become more and more frequent. The girls struggle to escape as Fletcher seeks to find the meaning of Kevin’s behavior. Eventually, a new, more deadly personality reveals itself: a personality known as “The Beast.”
Starting with last year’s “The Visit,” veteran director M. Night Shyamalan has seemingly begun an uphill climb from previously less-than-stellar directing outings.
Taking advantage of the basement and boiler room scenery, many of the shots are cramped and claustrophobic. These shots effectively add to the tension that is placed there by the action on screen.
Utilizing minimalism, Shyamalan is able to tease out the greatest suspense and thrills from even the smallest things. There is a good mix of showing and telling that both gives visual scares to the audience and informs them about the movie. This technique of showing is especially prevalent in flashbacks where the characters’ actions explain everything there is to know about their motivations and perspectives.
Again, “Split” has a generous mix of showing and telling. The telling mostly comes from Dr. Fletcher’s part, who thankfully serves more of a purpose than merely spouting exposition as to why Kevin is the way he is. Her explanations and probing of Kevin help build the world of the movie, move the plot along and also help to build her own character and create an empathetic relationship between her and Kevin.
The story clips along at a brisk pace, maintaining the suspense as the plot gets thicker and thicker. This quick progression has a downside, however, in that some things could have been more effective if a little more time was spent with them. A notable example of this is the introduction of “The Beast.” While still a slow build, Kevin’s personalities talk of the dreaded “Beast” as if it will awaken in the next couple scenes. Still, the use of such frequent foreshadowing ultimately pays off with a thrilling climax that delivers on the promise of “The Beast.”
James MacAvoy is a show-stealer as the complex Kevin whose personalities range from a diabetic teen, a burly man suffering from OCD, an eight-year-old, an inspired artist and a menacing matriarch. Each and every personality is decidedly different from the other, and MacAvoy shifts with incredible fluidity between all of these various identities.
Anna Taylor-Joy is captivating as Casey, the mysterious girl whose past is revealed in flashbacks that bring everything into focus as to why she acts the way she does. Taylor-Joy does an excellent job with maintaining consistency in her character both before and after the flashbacks. That way, it’s not her that changes, but the audience’s perception of her.
Betty Buckley delivers a warm and engaging performance as Dr. Karen Fletcher. Her care for Kevin is evident, and their relationship is one of the strongest aspects of the movie. This is largely due to both the actress’s ability and the irony that stems from the fact the audience knows what’s really going on.
Unfortunately, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula, the two girls who are kidnapped with Casey, are lost amongst the shining performances of the leads. In the end, they come off as nothing more than typical horror movie victims.
“Split” is another thrilling and fun horror and suspense film from the mind of Shyamalan. If nothing else, go see this movie for MacAvoy’s amazing performance. And maybe along the way, you’ll be kidnapped by the tension and on the edge of your seat by the time Shyamalan’s trademark twist hits you in the face.