Wednesday, January 25, 2017

[Review] Split

In a way, M. Night Shyamalan is the Weezer of the film world. People keep hoping that he can recapture the greatness of those first two projects, but it just doesn't happen. Since then, there's been some decent stuff, some disappointing stuff, some awful stuff (I'm picturing a perplexed Marky Mark staring into the abyss), and even some self-parody. While 2015's The Visit wasn't a return to form, it was Shyamalan's best work in years. The wildly mixed bag Split is an on-par follow-up.

A trio of art school students Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula) are abducted by a mysterious man named Dennis (James McAvoy). Or is it Kevin? Or Barry? I say that because he embodies 23 different personalities, including a naive 9-year-old named Hedwig and an elderly British woman named Patricia. The girls must attempt to escape from his grungy dungeon lair before the 24th personality called "The Beast" is unleashed.

This thing wastes no time getting crazy, and Shyamalan ramps up the suspense with a discomforting sense of claustrophobia and unpredictability. It becomes pretty clear that the film has no interest in staying grounded in reality or rooted in psychology, as it eventually takes a ludicrous yet terrifyingly gruesome turn. And without spoiling anything, there is a surprise at the end, but it isn't the usual "mind-blowing" twist that you might come to expect from Shyamalan. Of course I also have to mention James McAvoy's impressively versatile and unhinged performance, as he essentially plays multiple parts. At one point, he abruptly switches between several distinctive personalities in front of our eyes with eerie agility. It's definitely committed, and even chameleon-like.

Split is undeniably icky and exploitative, but it's an engrossing genre experience for the majority of the stretch, especially when it acts like the off-kilter younger cousin of films such as 10 Cloverfield Lane and Don't Breathe.

( 7/10 )

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