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Here I sit and calmly wait
As others take the stage for now,
The normal ones who dominate
And cast their glares of fear and hate
Because they know my time will come,
No matter what they may allow.

Within our host, I wait my turn,
For others must prepare my way.
I’m just a rumor, no concern,
Until too late, the normals learn
That darkness kept beneath their thumb
Will be set free, and they will pay.

MPAA rating: PG-13

After reaching an atrocious low with The Last Airbender, it seems M. Night Shyamalan has enacted a comeback, a return to the well-crafted psychological thrillers that first made him a household name. Found-footage horror The Visit was an improvement, wringing tension from a low budget, even if the story had holes and strange parts to criticize. And now, Split is another step in the right direction, boasting elements that are deserving of genuine praise, even if it’s not at the same level as Shyamalan’s early work, like Unbreakable.

The captivity thriller seems to be a popular subgenre of late, including 10 Cloverfield Lane, Pet, Berlin Syndrome, and of course, Split (or, as I call it, Sybil meets Psycho). Right from the start, outcast highschooler Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) is abducted with two of her more popular classmates, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), and they awake in a small locked room. Their kidnapper Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy) acts like different people whenever he interacts with them, and sessions with his understanding psychologist (Betty Buckley) reveal that he actually has 23 separate identities. We only get to see eight at the most, but three in particular have taken control of Kevin and, by kidnapping the girls, are preparing for the arrival of a much more dangerous personality called the Beast.

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The best thing about Split is James McAvoy simply because, without his phenomenal acting, the film could collapse under a weaker performance. Whether he’s an OCD-ridden pervert, a threateningly proper matron, or a mischievous little boy named Hedwig, his acting, accent, and body language really sell Kevin’s divided character. He even manages to act as one personality pretending to be another personality. Betty Buckley and Anya Taylor-Joy do fine work as well, with the former convincingly laying out exposition and the latter capturing the fear of trying to keep her wits about her.

Unfortunately, Split’s sad and disturbing narrative makes it a film I’m not likely to see often. Aside from the claustrophobic captivity aspect and tension, which were also well-done in 10 Cloverfield Lane, there were moments that could have benefited from a rewrite or better editing, like the protracted kidnapping scene, which had me thinking “Why doesn’t she dart out the door?” rather than holding me on the edge of my seat. One bizarre dance scene with the Hedwig personality reminded me that, as with The Visit, I don’t think Shyamalan’s attempts at comic relief work as he intends; it’s just a very strange scene, even if it were done by the 9-year-old boy Kevin thinks he is.

My biggest complaint comes toward the end, where the already disturbing storyline turns murderous and goes a bit too far for me and my VC, even if there’s restraint in what is actually shown. I appreciated the semi-twist that made sense for the traumas shared by Kevin and Casey, but the ending doesn’t provide much closure to anyone’s story. Perhaps I’ll appreciate Split more with the arrival of the announced sequel it’s clearly leading into, and I’ll admit I’m more excited for that follow-up than I was about Split.

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Even with my objections, Split is a definite step up for Shyamalan, well-acted and taut, and promises even more intriguing things to come. It’s perhaps best thought of as the birth of a supervillain, and while it succeeds in creating a dangerous and conflicted character, I’m more interested in the hero he’ll oppose.

Best line: (9-year-old Hedwig, after awkwardly kissing Casey) “You might be pregnant now.”


Rank: Honorable Mention


© 2017 S.G. Liput
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