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Film Review: James McAvoy takes his turn “in the light” in “Split”

Grade: B+

The study of mental disorders is often characterized by those who suffer from dementia, depression, or even schizophrenia. Dissociative identity disorder, which was previously known as multiple personality disorder, is another, less common type of mental condition which often results in a person having two or more distinct personalities. This is exactly the type of severe disorder that Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) the main character of Universal Pictures newest psychological horror “Split” suffers from on a daily basis, only he does not have just two or three identities to switch between…he has 23. This latest story from the suspenseful film director M. Night Shyamalan keeps your heart pounding at record pace and brings us back to the good days of horror filmmaking.

The scary movies that audiences watch in the days leading up to Halloween are often less than stellar they’re scary, but that’s it. They don’t make you think. Actors in today’s horror flicks are commonly not well-known and filmmakers lose focus or direction during production and spend much of their time making sure a film is simply “scary” rather than ensuring that it is of good quality. Shyamalan’s “Split” is comparable to the quality of some of the great suspenseful thrillers such as Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs” while keeping the suspense and scares that characterize many horror films today.

Leading up to the final events of the film, the versatility of McAvoy is wondrous to behold and that’s a lot to say about someone who takes up a role in a horror film. McAvoy dazzles in his role, especially on a few occasions when the script calls for him to switch identities mid-scene. Some of his identities include a personality named “Dennis,” who suffers from violent tendencies, obsessive compulsive disorder and likes to watch young girls dance naked, as well as “Patricia,” a dignified cross-dresser and “Hedwig” an innocent nine-year-old boy.

Moments occur throughout “Split” where the story presents flashbacks of the life of Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), one of three kidnapped teenagers that Kevin keeps in his underground dwelling. The flashbacks build her character — and ultimately prove useful when dealing with Kevin’s dissociated personality states — but this strong narrative is often unsupported by Taylor-Joy’s dull acting. Casey is a mysterious girl with an affinity for darkness who suffered from child abuse. Her character is meant to serve a large role in the story, but she is buried by stale acting from Taylor-Joy.

“Split” acts as another recovery from Shyamalan streak of poorly reviewed films, including “Lady in the Water,” “The Happening,” “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth,” each of which earned him nominations for the Golden Raspberry Awards, an award ceremony that that recognizes the worst in film. The tone is recognizable this go-around, unlike Shyamalan’s last horror “The Visit,” which was met with mixed criticism, not to mention, “Split” is largely carried by McAvoy’s performance.

As for the rest of the movie, which was produced by Blumhouse Productions and Blinding Edge Pictures (a production company that was founded by Shyamalan), it is great to finally see a horror flick that does not get caught up in the aforementioned scare factor (or more distinctively the jump-scare factor).

This is not a movie written in the likeness of today’s film producers, that have grown weak in their art; it is a true testament to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and others who had their time before modern Hollywood. We should look to see if there’s a sequel to “Split” as well which is a hint that if you do decide to attend a screening, you should not “split” before the credits roll.

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