Shyamalan returns to form with ‘Split’

By Ivan Mateo

M. Night Shyamalan has been hit-and-miss recently with the films he has directed. His forte is the genre of suspense and thriller, so not surprisingly, “Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable” are two favorite films directed by Shyamalan.

However, Shyamalan is also responsible for both “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth,” so the initial viewing experience with “Split” was met with a handful of apprehension.

Everyone in the world has their respective personality that makes them unique. Bruce Willis will definitely have a different personality from Meryl Streep, and I am going to have a strikingly different personality than Will Smith.

Our various personalities come with distinct ways in which we read and react to adverse situations. Everybody discovers unique ways to cope with the horrors of trauma. But what happens when those transgressions continue to haunt us?

Sometimes, certain ways of coping must take form in order to protect the individual suffering from trauma. “Split” explores these coping mechanisms when they are taken to extremes.

The film opens inside a mall restaurant as the birthday party for Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) draws to its conclusion and Claire’s father (Neal Huff) begins to organize the ride situation for the teenagers to safely arrive home.

Right off the bat, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) does not appear like the other teenagers at the party. She is often sitting alone or looking outside the window contemplating her thoughts. The ride set to pick Casey up has car troubles, so Claire’s father insists on taking her home.

Claire’s father, Claire, Marcia (Jessica Sula), Claire’s close friend, and Casey all get ready to hop into the car ready to drive home. An unknown stranger sits in the driver’s seat to the shock of the girls.

The stranger, Dennis (James McAvoy), abducts the teenagers and brings them to an unknown cellar-like dwelling.

The teenagers do not know what plans Dennis has for them. On the surface this looks like a routine kidnapping, but it slowly becomes clear to the girls and the audience that what is about to unfold is something entirely different.

Some of Dennis’ motivations are revealed when he visits Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), a psychologist who helps Kevin cope with his dissociative identity disorder (DID) or multiple personality disorder.

Wait, who is Kevin, you ask? Kevin is the original name of the person or personality for Dennis, but trauma in his past has forced Kevin to create 23 distinct personalities, such as Dennis and others.

What follows for Casey, Claire and Marcia is a suspenseful, thrilling game of trying to figure out the mysterious nature behind Kevin or Dennis and his many personalities.

Are there any clues that could help the girls manufacture some sort of escape from the prison their captor has constructed for them? Which personality is speaking? Is Dennis playing tricks with the other characters and the audience?

In flashback scenes, Izzie Coffey plays a five-year-old Casey. These flashback scenes help to build Casey’s character by showcasing her experiences with trauma.

Much of the praise for “Split” should be given to McAvoy and his versatile performance. He was tasked with acting out different types of personalities in one role.

In one scene, McAvoy plays Barry, a lover of art and fashion with a Bostonian accent. He quickly switches to Patricia, a caring, nurturing mother-like figure.

Another brilliant example of McAvoy’s acting arrives when Kevin assumes the role of Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy who loves dancing in his room to the music of Kanye West. McAvoy plays many other personalities such as Orwell, Jade and many others throughout the film.

McAvoy’s micro expressions and mannerisms are completely on point when his personality shifts ” from little boy Hedwig walking on his tiptoes to Patricia slicing sandwiches in half for the teenage girls.

Shyamalan appears in the film in an obvious, yet comical cameo as he tends to do in his past works.

Toward the end of the film, one of Shyamalan’s iconic characters makes a special cameo appearance as well.

Anchored by a terrific, multifaceted performance by McAvoy, “Split” brings the thrilling aspects reminiscent of films Shyamalan has conjured up in the past.

“Split” is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language. The film is playing in theatres now.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

‘Split’ movie poster

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