M Night Shyamalan rediscovers his sixth sense for scares with Split

James McAvoy displays his versatility as a multiple-personality psycho

Split (PG13: some mature content and violence)

Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy Directed by M Night Shyamalan

The Scottish actor James McAvoy best known as the young Professor X in the X-Men superhero franchise can play anything whether man or woman, mannered fashion designer or nine-year-old boy.

And play them all in a single movie.

Kevin in M Night Shyamalan’s Split has multiple personality disorder, and the comic relish with which McAvoy transforms in and out of Kevin’s 23 identities, each manifesting unique behaviour and a distinct appearance, does not lessen the confusion and terror of the three high-school girls Kevin abducts and locks in a windowless basement cell: two are best friends (Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula); the third, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), is a watchful, withdrawn misfit loner. 

Shyamalan, who wrote-directed cum produced, intercuts a suspenseful hostage thriller of the teens attempting to escape by exploiting Kevin’s dueling characters with a psychological study of Kevin at his therapy sessions.

What Kevin’s doctor (Betty Buckley) doesn’t know is that Kevin has a 24th, hitherto suppressed personality about to take over.

There is a supernatural twist. Of course there is, Shyamalan being the fantastist behind The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and The Visit last year. Except, instead of the narrative stunt Shyamalan is prone to, the sudden shift into horror reveals to be as integral as the frequent flashbacks to Casey’s childhood because this tense and ingenious fable is also an emotional one on the traumas of child abuse.

How touching it is, that may be Shyamalan’s biggest, best surprise here, along with a corking closing in-joke. 4/5

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