Film review: James McAvoy shines in the flawed thriller Split about a fractured mind
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley
Two and a half stars
Split is a movie in which James McAvoy plays a man with 23 personalities. Some are kind, some strange, some talented, some deranged. One is a woman. One is a child. And one likes to lock girls in a basement.
As with many thrillers, this one from writer-director M Night Shyamalan chooses to focus on scantily clad teenage girls in peril. Forgive me if I am a little bored already, but not even McAvoy in a tight turtleneck and pleated skirt as one of the personalities, Miss Patricia, is enough to save this film.
That said, McAvoy is delightfully weird as the various iterations of Kevin. It is a shame the story, which keeps reminding us there are 23 of them, only shows us about eight.
Kevin is being treated by a psychiatrist (Betty Buckley), who believes people with dissociative identity disorder are superhumans, and Kevin is her star patient. He usually talks to her as Barry, a kind fashion designer, but she suspects perverted alter ego Dennis has started pretending to be Barry.
This set-up should increase the tension, but it never really works despite some menacing ambiguity from McAvoy and subtle terror from Buckley, who gets some terrific close-ups.
The girls, by the way, are mostly nonentities, with the exception of Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey Cook. She has a disturbing backstory that we see in flashbacks. Her previous experiences should come in handy when she’s in captivity, but her strategies aren’t nearly as thrilling or resourceful as, say, what we saw in 10 Cloverfield Lane, which cleverly subverted the tropes of the “girl in captivity narrative”.
Split isn’t a disaster – it is just all over the place and not nearly as effective as it should be, given such a good premise and performances.
For some Shyamalan devotees, it will be good enough, though, even without the surprise of the final shot.