Film Review: SPLIT (USA 2017) ***1/2

split_poster.jpgDirector: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson

Review by Gilbert Seah

 The first thing on the mind of anyone venturing to see a new M. Night Shyamalan film is whether the film is going to be a bomb like AFTER EARTH and THE LAST AIRBENDER or a hit like his early films THE SIXTH SENSE, SIGNS and UNBREAKABLE. His last film THE VISIT pleased the majority of filmgoers and SPILT should do the same.

The film begins with the abduction in a car in broad daylight of three teenage friends Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and difficult outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). The three girls get seated in the car while the father of one of them puts their gear in the trunk. “Can I help you?” the father says to a stranger whose face is off-camera.

From the car mirror, Casey senses something is wrong when she sees their bags on the road. She turns to get a glimpse of the man who has just moved into the driver’s seat and it is not her friend’s father. This is top notch camera work worthy of Hitchcock and proves a hard act to follow. True enough, none of the rest of the film can match the first 10 minutes of pure suspense.

Their captor Kevin (James McAvoy) locks the trio in a windowless room, then proceeds to frighten and baffle them. One minute he’s wearing eyeglasses and obsessive about cleanliness, the next he is presenting as female (PSYCHO style), and later he acts like a nine-year-old boy. It is revealed that Kevin exhibits 23 alternate personalities, and in order to escape, his captives must convince one of the personalities within him to set them free, before the arrival of the 24th and final personality, the “beast”.

James McAvoy delivers a really creepy performance worthy of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Teen actress Taylor-Joy need not have to do much. The film is scary enough and all she has to do is register fear in hr face. Shyamalan often has the camera in close-up.

To add more to the simple plot of abduction, the story of Casey’s life is told in flashbacks. Her father has passed on from a heart attack and she is looked after by a creepy uncle who may be a pedophile. Kevin is a patient under study by Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) who hopes to rehabilitate him.

As in all Shyamalan’s films, there is a surprise twist – the best of which were in his first two films. There is a big surprise at the end of this one too, but only consequential to the goings-on. Still, Shyamalan fans should not be disappointed.

Shyamalan’s films all make money even his two big critical flops. SPLIT only cost a paltry $10 million to make, primarily for its use of inexpensive stars and absent unneeded special effects. SPLIT is expected to gross $20-25 million this weekend alone which means that there should be another Shyamalan thriller/horror the next year. No one should be complaining.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84TouqfIsiI

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