Advertisement
  1. Arts & Entertainment

Review: The twist to M. Night Shyamalan's 'Split'? It's actually good!

James McAvoy in a scene from, "Split." (John Baer/Universal Pictures via AP)
Published Jan. 24, 2017

There's a twist to M. Night Shyamalan's Split that caught me flat-footed: It's actually a good movie, something his past decade made as hard to predict as Bruce Willis being dead in The Sixth Sense.

Split is a tidy example of lurid understatement, its themes ripe for nastier treatment than Shyamalan offers, grindhouse stuff served with vegan restraint. There's no need for explicitness with two dozen deranged weirdos prowling around and one actor playing them all to the hilt.

James McAvoy is a pleasure to observe taking everything seriously. He is giddily invested in each psychotic shard of his role's demented nature, chiefly Dennis the clean freak who kidnapped three teenage girls, Hedwig the lisping 9-year-old boy with a crush, and matronly Patricia, mid length skirt and all but a wig. Those kidnapping victims never know who's coming through the dungeon door.

Nor do those girls take their predicament laying down, especially Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), an outcast pressed on classmates just before their abduction. "Why do you act like you're not one of us?" grills Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) when Casey isn't immediately down with an escape plan. Why doesn't anyone wishing to survive movie psychos, like virgins at summer death camps? Cryptic flashbacks to Casey's deer hunting trips with her father and uncle will explain and unsettle satisfactorily.

Taylor-Joy modernizes her breakout radiance in The Witch, not a scream queen but fearfully composed in the face of supernatural events. Casey is resourceful and shrewd, at one point attempting to turn her captors against each other, a classic hostage strategy. With the captors all in one person, Shyamalan has a nifty hook on which to hang McAvoy's revolving door performance.

Meanwhile, a psychologist (Betty Buckley) has been treating whomever McAvoy's playing, chiefly an aspiring fashion designer named Barry. The shrink has an ulterior motive for keeping Barry and his pals on the street. That allows Buckley to unspool Shyamalan's plumpest exposition, of watershed trauma, ambitious theories and why some of her patient's personalities are "banned from the light."

In return, whoever's on the couch at the moment promises "the Beast" is coming. "For the eating of the impure young?" the psychologist asks. That's the guy.

From that point Split accelerates from slow-burn thriller to one of the more deranged, don't-dare-spoil third acts in memory and a coda cameo that lifted me from my seat. Shyamalan hasn't goosed a crowd this successfully since Signs. As someone who'd written him off, it's fun to have been wrong.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Mario Lopez tosses beads to the thousands of people lining Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa during the 2019 Gasparilla Parade of Pirates LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Catch up on today’s Tampa Bay concert announcements.
  2. The cast of "Siesta Key" on MTV. Courtesy of MTV
    It’s a third season for the reality series filmed at the beach community in Sarasota County.
  3. A sign outside the new Rise of the Resistance ride at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge shows the virtual queue closed on opening day, Dec. 5. Luis Santana
    Disney’s newest ‘Star Wars’-themed ride saw its virtual queue filled by 8:30 a.m. on opening day, with no other ride options available. The park’s scheduled open time was 9 a.m.
  4. Michael McDonald, right, will rejoin the Doobie Brothers for a 50th anniversary tour that'll hit the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on June 10. Clay Patrick McBride
    Seats for Lyle Lovett, Chicago with Rick Springfield and more are up for grabs.
  5. Festivus, the made-up holiday "Seinfeld" made famous, is celebrated on Dec. 23 and features a Festivus pole. Here, a scene from the episode, "The Strike," featuring the pole. [Sony Pictures TV]
    Air your grievances. We’ll publish them, so the world can do better in 2020.
  6. Jessica and Tommy Garvin pose for a selfie outside of the Tropicana Field Wednesday evening after they were notified that their wedding ring lost at Enchant Christmas was found. Photo courtesy of Jessica and Tommy Garvin
    After thinking it was gone forever, the Garvins are thrilled to have their sentiment of love returned.
  7. From left, Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars and Tommy Lee of Motley Crue arrive at the world premiere of their Netflix biopic "The Dirt" on March 18 in Los Angeles. Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
    Joan Jett and the Blackhearts will also perform at Camping World Stadium next summer.
  8. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge new attraction, Rise of the Resistance, at Disney's Hollywood Studios on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019 in Lake Buena Vista. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    The stakes are high for Rise of the Resistance after Disney got mixed reviews for opening its new Star Wars land before its marquee attraction was open.
  9. Christmas cookie illustration Illustration by Lisa Merklin
    Try an internationally inspired cookie plate this holiday season.
  10. Adam Levine of Maroon 5 performs during halftime at Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3. MARK HUMPHREY  |  AP
    The Super Bowl halftime headliners are heading out on an extensive world tour next year.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement