Split

 

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James McAvoy takes on a new identity - to add to the twenty-three he already has...

 

    Split

 Identity crisis: James McAvoy with Anya Taylor-Joy

 

That’s ‘split’ as in ‘split personality.’ There’s certainly more to Kevin Wendell Crumb than meets the eye. In fact, he’s a bundle of 23 distinct personalities, and not all of them are nice…

 

Recently, there seems to have been a profusion of abduction thrillers – particularly featuring vulnerable women locked in claustrophobic spaces – but Split is of a little more interest. For a start, it showcases James McAvoy in perhaps his most demanding role to date, sliding imperceptibly from one character to the next. And so we come to recognise the separate personalities trapped in Kevin’s body as McAvoy’s body language ripples from one identity to the next. It would have been easy for the actor to slip into parody, but McAvoy keeps the childlike Hedwig, the obsessive-compulsive Barry and rather prim Patricia this side of credible.

 

Kevin, of course, is a damaged soul and it’s not until he has kidnapped Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, from The Witch and Morgan), another victim of child abuse, that the psychological battle lines are drawn. In recent years, the career of the filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan would seem to have foundered, but the writer-director of The Sixth Sense and Signs has re-emerged with fresh vigour and maturity, creating here a sly, suspenseful and multi-layered work that keeps us guessing and in thrall. On this occasion, he serves his own smart, tight script with the precision of a storyteller at the top of his form. West Dylan Thordson's moody music is kept to an acceptable minimum and the disorientating camera angles deployed to effective use. But it is McAvoy’s multi-storey performance that viewers will be talking about for years to come, although as Kevin’s two female foils, Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey and the redoubtable Betty Buckley as his psychiatrist, are also exceptional.

 

As a generic companion piece to Daniel Petrie's seminal two-part TV movie Sybil (1976), Split proves to be an informative and intriguing second helping. Only the final, somewhat drawn-out coda – suggesting a series in the offing – undermines what could have been a perfect thriller.

  

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus, Neal Huff, M. Night Shyamalan, Bruce Willis.

 

Dir M. Night Shyamalan, Pro M. Night Shyamalan, Jason Blum and Marc Bienstock, Screenplay M. Night Shyamalan, Ph Mike Gioulakis, Pro Des Mara LePere-Schloop, Ed Luke Franco Ciarrocchi, Music West Dylan Thordson, Costumes Paco Delgado.

 

Blinding Edge Pictures/Blumhouse Productions-Universal Pictures.

117 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 20 January 2017. Cert. 15.