Split – 2017

Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula

For a guy who 15 years ago was all about potential to have gone through the ringer to eventually come to a film that is itself the very description of potential is saying something. I am just not sure what it is trying to say.

Taylor-Joy plays Casey, who along with two friends is kidnapped and brought to a secret hideout. Their captor, known to the world as Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy) is someone who suffers from multiple personality disorder. This manifests itself in 23 different personages residing within his person. They are working in concert in preparation for a 24th.

Her co-captives (Richardson and Sula), already uncomfortable with Casey, are even more put off by her decision not to work with them in an effort to escape. More contemplative, Casey recognizes early on the true nature of her kidnapper. During this time, the viewer is given glimpses into Casey’s past, which is nearly as horrific as her present.

Kevin is working with a psychologist named Dr. Karen Fletcher (Buckley). She suspects there is something going on as Kevin keeps asking to meet with her. She is unable to piece it together until she gets an epiphany.

Things progress in an entertaining pace for the first 50 minutes, if for no other reason than Taylor-Joy and Buckley. Taylor-Joy gives such foreboding as to make one wonder who is really in danger as she keeps her reactions mostly under the vest. Indeed, it’s almost like she’s weighing her options of staying versus escaping. In two films, Anya Taylor-Joy has shown as much depth as an actress her age since Kate Winslet.

Good Lord, but it’s nice to see Betty Buckley has still got it going on. She has the presence of  a master, and it’s clear to see that she spends her time between gigs teaching the craft. Her inclusion within the story gives the character a depth that might be missing from your average supporting actor. We get a real inquisitive nature, a desperation to be taken seriously and concern for the welfare of each party at once with her portrayal. It is a dimension that would be easy to overlook, but Shyamalan does not.

It is unfortunate that Joaquin Phoenix was unable to work out a schedule to play as Kevin. As it stands, MCavoy is passable, but we get only 8 characters out of him and most of them are not different enough to register in the amount of time allotted. I nearly decided against watching the film after seeing the trailer enough to grow tired of Hedwig.

Shyamalan has trudged through Hollywood obscurity for many years to get back to the point where a film of his is considered a hot property.  He seems to have struck a chord here, but for me the story is a half step back of his last venture, The Visit. It definitely keeps one watching until the end, and it feels like he’s having fun making movies again.

Overall, it’s the very last scene that will keep people from forgetting this film. Even so, the payoff for the characters is underwhelming. While it’s easy to have low expectations from the obvious hint of future films in this universe, I am willing to see where it goes.

(*** out of *****)

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