5 02 2017

M. Night Shyamalan makes smarter thrillers than your average Hollywood hired hand (as we’re now allowed to admit again). His latest, “Split,” showcases the director’s skill at using shot composition as a tool far scarier than the shaky cam faux-verité aesthetic plaguing the genre. Shyamalan understands that the artificial and the unnatural possess a deeply unsettling category that many filmmakers neglect to wield.

It’s a great stylistic match for this story, featuring James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man with an advanced dissociative personality disorder that enables him to toggle between 23 different personas. The role serves as an obvious exhibition of McAvoy’s considerable range and technical precision; the mastery becomes quite scary when he eventually erupts in a fit of feral rage. His unpredictability makes decisions complicated for the three teenage female victims he kidnaps and imprisons, although one with a similarly dark past (Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey) possesses a special insight that proves valuable in outsmarting his personalities.

“Split” works well when Shyamalan allows it to function as a taut captivity thriller given the unknown variable of Kevin’s ever-shifting identity. He does disrupt the forward progress of that narrative with two separate cutaway stories, however. The first, repeated asides with Kevin’s psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betsy Buckley), sheds light on how he functions not as “less than” regular people but as something greater. The second, which provides background on why Casey seems equipped to handle Kevin, ultimately adds little to the film. I kept waiting for it to come full circle in a signature Shyamalan twist, but … well, without spoiling, the ending serves the filmmaker far more than it serves the film. Red herrings are fine, to be clear, but their worth is questionable when they disrupt the pace of the film to extent that this one does. B2halfstars



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