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Review: “Split” is M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie in years

James+McAvoy+portrays+Kevin%2C+a+man+with+23+personalities+who+kidnaps+three+girls%2C+in+M.+Night+Shyamalans+latest%2C+Split.+The+film+hit+theaters+on+January+20.
Courtesy Universal Studios

James McAvoy portrays Kevin, a man with 23 personalities who kidnaps three girls, in M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, “Split.” The film hit theaters on January 20.

Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan once had what looked like a very promising career. His unique filmmaking style allowed him to scare viewers through thrills instead of gore, and this led to modern classics such as “Signs” and “The Sixth Sense.” 

Then it all went downhill. It seems unclear what happened to Shyamalan’s filmmaking craft, but everything that made his movies worth watching seemed to disappear, resulting in cinematic disasters like “The Happening” and “The Last Airbender.”

Luckily, with his new movie, “Split,” he seems to have started mounting a comeback.

“Split” stars James McAvoy as a man named Kevin who suffers from a horrible case of dissociative identity disorder. Twenty-three personalities live inside his body, certainly more than the average patient suffering from the disorder.

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At the beginning of the film, he kidnaps three teenage girls and locks them inside a small room. Hidden away from the rest of the world, he tells them he has taken them for a special purpose, although he will not divulge what exactly he means by that.

The personalities inside him range from a man named Dennis, another man named Barry, a woman named Patricia and a child named Hedwig. Getting kidnapped would be bad enough without your kidnapper having a new personality every time you saw him.

This movie may not be perfect, but for a movie with this sort of plot, it accomplishes its goals quite well. James McAvoy gives an outstandingly creepy performance as Kevin and all of his personalities, changing his voice, mannerisms and even body chemistry with each one. Some actors only dream of landing a role like this, and McAvoy does a great job. In some ways, the movie feels more like a McAvoy-acting showcase than anything else. “Split” will not win many awards, but McAvoy deserves some sort of accolade for his performance.

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He quite easily outshines the performances of the other main characters like the three kidnapped girls and Kevin’s therapist, but they all do a good job in their roles as well. The acting was all around successful in this movie.

At times, however, the whole thing can feel a little bit over the top. This movie works best when it operates as a slow, tension-building thriller. But, especially toward the end, it starts to feel more like a poorly made action movie, so some parts of it certainly work better than others.

Shyamalan films typically have a signature big reveal or “plot twist” at the end of each movie, which should basically change the entire way the viewer sees the film. “Split” does have one of these, but not a traditional one. The twist should work for any devoted Shyamalan fans out there, but others may find themselves thoroughly confused.

All in all, “Split” should certainly satisfy Shyamalan fans and also prove worth watching for anyone who likes movies that may thrill, shock or unsettle you. It may not reach the heights of some of Shyamalan’s earliest films but is still far superior to what he has made in recent years. This definitely represents a step in the right direction for the filmmaker.

“Split” may not have an important cultural representation of mental illness, but it’s still a fun movie to watch and McAvoy’s performance alone makes it worth a look.

Grade: B-


Follow Alec Kuehnle on Twitter.


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