By Nick Erickson, Staff writer
Directors like M. Night Shyamalan are held to an extremely high standard and for good reason. His work with 1999’s “The Sixth Sense” set the bar high for chilling thrillers and has carried his legacy for almost two decades, minus a few hiccups (such as “The Last Airbender”). However, with his newest release, “Split,” Shyamalan, without overdoing it, paints for viewers a horrifying display of the inner machinations of a man who cannot control his body.
Much like Shyamalan’s work in “The Visit,” “Split” is all about the escape. The film centers on Kevin Crumb, played by James McAvoy, who kidnaps three teenage girls in a parking lot. Soon, the girls discover that Kevin suffers from dissociative identity disorder, and Dennis, the persona who captured them, is merely one of his 23 varied personalities. A 24th personality, dubbed “The Beast,” is deemed to be approaching and horrific. It’s of utmost urgency that the girls escape before he assumes the final form and claims them victim.
One would easily commend an actor for a successful portrayal of one character, and mastering numerous characters within the confines of a two-hour film is an extraordinary task. Each persona inside the antagonist’s head is intricate but also a loose-enough character to easily grasp. McAvoy’s strongest portrayals range from innocuous to vile. From Dennis’ obsessive, violent-natured body, to Patricia, a dainty English woman, to Hedwig, an innocent 9-year-old boy with a lisp, McAvoy is captivating. Though each character is vastly different, McAvoy’s concrete performance makes for a shiveringly believable performance.
While the strongest performance lies in McAvoy’s character, there are other strong suits to be found. The three girls captured by Dennis, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) all give great performances as a group of unsuspecting girls held captive within the confines of Kevin’s reach. His psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley, is shown as sympathetic to Kevin’s character, and when it comes down to it, she gives a gut-wrenching performance. Though a linear plot, it’s difficult for one to pinpoint exactly what is about to happen next. Much like Kevin’s multiple personalities, the plot also keeps changing, and it makes for quite the ride.
“Split” has caught a plethora of criticism since its announcement, as people have claimed it demonizes those with mental disorders. However, those who watch the film will soon realize it doesn’t belittle those with dissociative identity disorder. Rather, it perfectly illustrates the psychological aspect of coping with it and shines light on a real issue, all while creating a genuinely terrifying film. “Split” is not for the faint of heart, but for those who dare, prepare to find the most intriguing construct and impressive acting in the realm of 21st century horror.