Combustible Celluloid
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With: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Betty Buckley, Sebastian Arcelus, Brad William Henke, Izzie Leigh Coffey, Neal Huff, M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language
Running Time: 117
Date: 01/20/2017

Split (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Personality Crisis

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan launches a full-fledged comeback with this tense, satisfying horror-thriller, refreshingly infused with thoughtful ideas and sly suggestion, rather than gore or brutality. Shyamalan has had quite an up-and-down career; last year he tested the waters with the small-scale The Visit, and now makes a bold return to his The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable days; Split actually resembles the latter in some ways, rooted in real-world theories about the elastic limits of human possibility.

In Split, teen birthday girl Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) is finishing up a party with her friend Marcia (Jessica Sula), but her "mercy invite," troubled Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) can't find a ride home. Claire's dad prepares to drive them, but a mysterious man (James McAvoy) kidnaps all three girls and locks them in a windowless room. They notice that the man acts strange, showing different personalities and holding conversations with himself. Unbeknownst to the girls, he goes to see his therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who tries to communicate with the man's 23 personalities. But he warns her of the coming of "the Beast," an all-powerful monster that could be a twenty-fourth, and who might just have an appetite for teen girls.

As ever, the director's camerawork is above reproach; he creates a sinister, windowless, underground lair, smoothly snaking with corridors, dingy doors and pipes, and harsh pools of light. His writing is subtler here than in other, recent films, with a few odd touches, but confident. Best of all are the two leads: Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) has an awesome, ethereal presence, and James McAvoy conveys at least a half-dozen of his character's personalities with an uncanny, haunting clarity. Split is a smart movie that will undoubtedly have viewers talking amongst themselves.

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