★ ★ ★ ★
Let’s twist again, like we did last summer! Or in this case, like we did a decade or so ago when director M. Night Shyamalan became the master of the trick ending. Remember the twist in “The Sixth Sense”? It was one of the best surprises in movie memory. Ever since little Haley Joel Osment uttered those four words that sent chills down audience’s spines—“I see dead people”—Shyamalan has been largely unsuccessful in recreating that kind of jolt for his audience.
His new film, a psychological horror called “Split,” comes close to re-establishing Shyamalan’s reputation as the ziggiest zagger of a storyteller in Hollywood.
The dark story begins in broad daylight with the kidnapping of teens Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). The three friends are plunked down into an airless basement dungeon, held captive by Kevin (James McAvoy), a man with dissociative identity disorder. In other words his mind has cleaved into twenty-four separate and distinctive personas. Think “Psycho” times 12. To escape, the girls must appeal to Kevin’s better nature or natures before the final personality, The Beast, shows up and they become, “sacred food.”
Shyamalan will earn a good chunk of the credit for “Split,” for writing the twisty-turny story, for choosing the anxiety-inducing soundtrack, for constructing a (mostly) taut and tense pulpy thriller with loads of black humour but it is McAvoy that makes the movie memorable.
From the button-down, neat-freak Dennis, to nine-year-old Kanye West fan Hedwig to the sinister Patricia, he jumps from personality to personality, breathing life into each of his characters. The changes are frequently lightening fast. A furrow of a brow, the tightening of the lips and presto-chango, he’s someone else. It’s bravura work, unafraid to go over-the-top, embracing each and every character as if they were the star of the show.
Like all good Shyamalan movies (and some bad ones too) there is a twist, and a good one, but you’ll have to buy a ticket to find out what it is. There will be no spoilers here. Suffice to say the curve ball works thematically as well as providing several ‘What the Hell!!’ moments.
“Split” is wild and wooly, uniting, for the first time in a long time, Shyamalan’s talent for keeping the audience on the edge of their seats and his ability to change the game in the final act.