M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense was one of the most popular movies of the ‘90s, and with six Oscar nominations it fared pretty well with industry insiders too.
Disappointingly for fans of the chiller thriller, Shyamalan’s had a somewhat chequered film career ever since, with the likes of The Last Airbender and After Earth flopping at the box office. So let’s all give James McAvoy a round of applause, because with his help Shyamalan is back on top form.
The mighty McAvoy plays Kevin, a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder. He has 24 different aliases, some of them good, and some of them very, very bad.
After kidnapping three teenage girls in the frightening opening, Kevin drugs them and locks them up. Waking up in a windowless chamber, friends Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) and troubled outcast Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) quickly meet one of Kevin’s darker incarnations, Dennis.
Not long after their introduction they hear a conversation outside between Dennis and an unknown female, who is scolding the captor and warning him not to touch the teens. Peering through a crack in the door, they can clearly make out a female form in a dress, but when she opens the door, they’re confused and unnerved to discover it’s just Dennis in a dress, aka next personality, Patricia. Unlike Dennis’ broad East Coast American accent, Patricia has a softly spoken, chilling English lilt.
Next is nine-year-old Hedwig, which sees Kevin talk like a child who favours his newly learnt word “etcetera” and move around with boundless energy.
It quickly becomes apparent to the girls that they need to work together and seize the right moment, and personality, if they want any chance of getting out alive.
When he’s not scaring the trio with tales of The Beast, a creature apparently intent on making the girls his prey, Kevin is seeing therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley). While it appears he’s camp New York fashionista Barry in these sessions, Dr. Fletcher is less convinced, especially as her patient keeps sending her “urgent” emails at various times of the day and night.
The premise may be a dark one, but the film is totally and absolutely absorbing. Thanks to a lot of tight camera work from Shyamalan, the audience are left feeling like they are right there in the room and for most of the movie you forget you’re actually watching a film. The ending drags slightly, which is a shame because looking at your watch with 15 minutes to go breaks Split’s powerful spell.
McAvoy’s wardrobe changes when he morphs into the different personalities and his accent alters too, but his face and shaved head stay exactly the same, meaning he has to adapt his mannerisms and nuances to convey fully which character he is. He does this with ease and both scares and endears in the roles, showcasing what a great actor he truly is. Joaquin Phoenix was originally slated to play the deeply troubled Kevin, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role after seeing McAvoy soar in it.
The teen trio also impresses, especially Taylor-Joy. Buckley is warm and understanding as Dr. Fletcher, though you’ll be cursing her stupidity towards the end of the movie.
A totally unconventional and boundary breaking film, Split is worth every penny of the ticket cost.
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