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Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Running time 117 minutes
Synopsis: Three teenage girls, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) are abducted by a psychologically-disturbed man, Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy).
Fans of M. Night Shyamalan in particular and of horror/supernatural thrillers in general might find reasonable satisfaction with his latest film, Split. Everyone else can safely avoid it.
Since his huge 1998 hit The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has tilled the horror/supernatural pastures to generally underwhelming effect, his reputation from that film apparently so bullet-proof that he continues to make films when most other directors would have log since disappeared into television land. So about the only thing that would get you to this film if you were not a devotee or genre tragic would be curiosity. As they, it killed the cat….
The premise of Split, an exploration of dissociative identity (once known as multiple personality) disorder in the form of a thriller has potential and for a while the film appears to be making some headway by giving us repeated sessions between Kevin and his sympathetic and helpfully expositional psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), and alternating these with encounters between some of Kevin’s multiple personalities and the girls whom he has sequestered in some unknown basement complex. That one of these personalities likes to watch young girls in their underwear dancing is evidence of the low level of imagination at work here.
After a while, however, this back-and-forth starts to get a bit stale as the girls are useless at escaping and McAvoy’s personae are limited to four out of 23 and these are all fairly caricatural. In response, the film gets silly with the septuagenarian Dr. Fletcher going to visit Kevin in his lair (like yeah!) with the inevitable consequence and the whole shebang shifting gear from the psychological to full-on supernatural horror with the emergence of Kevin’s 24th personality, a flesh-eating Beast given to Nietzschean ravings.
The best supernatural thrillers, like The Sixth Sense, or The Awakening (2011) manage to combine the ordinary and the extraordinary in a seamless psychological unity. The rest just go for varying degrees of fright. Split doesn’t score highly in the fright department and with a routine story and uninteresting characters there is little else to reward. Its ending which makes a for-fans reference to the director’s equally gauche 2000 film Unbreakable, appears to suggest the option of a sequel. I, for one, am not looking forward to it.