Let’s twist again – M. Night Shyamalan is back!

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Fabian Brims, Staff Writer

It’s one of the worst clichés in thrillers: The Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), not to confuse with schizophrenia. There are plenty of movies about perpetrators suffering from this mental illness, and often writers use it to create a (un-) surprising plot twist. And who’s the master of the mystery plot twist? Exactly, M. Night Shyamalan! But if you think you can guess that easily, how the ‘Sixth Sense’ director wants to bend your mind in his new thriller, guess again.

Kevin (James McAvoy) lives alone. However, his mind is home to a total of 24 persons, because he suffers from an extreme case of DID after being abused by his mother when he was a kid. One day he abducts three teenagers from the local mall, when they want to go home from a birthday party. While Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lou-Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) try to find a way out of their prison, one of Kevin’s alter egos keeps contacting his/their therapist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), and it doesn’t take long until she can sense that something is wrong with her long-time patient.

Like with any movie from this director, the less you know the better it is. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but he returns to old strength with this movie, after his last movie ‘The Visit’ finally set an end to his series of box-office-bombs. Shyamalan, who also wrote the script, gets the maximum out of his minimalistic setting (the majority of the movie takes place in a basement) and his direction is on point. He creates high tension just with little things, like a fallen over bag of groceries, and he raises the suspense constantly after the short introduction. At times he also eases the tension again, with little humorous moments, often related to Kevin’s different persona, just to pull the viewer right back into this intense movie. This is supported by an excellent score by West Dylan Thordson (Joy, Foxcatcher), the first time Shyamalan didn’t work with James Newton Howard.

James McAvoy (X-Men, Wanted) sets a career milestone with this movie. He acts 8 of the 24 personalities and switches seamlessly between being a shy little girl, a sensitive fashion designer, a tough woman in high heels and a neurotic young man, among others. He’s simply brilliant and he carries the movie alone with his performance.

Shooting star Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Morgan) does also a really good job, while the other two girls mainly stay in the background. Her character seems awkward at first, but Shyamalan exposes her past piece by piece in flashbacks, and she is the only of the girls with a true development. She seems fragile, yet the strongest one among the victims, a refreshing turn after playing the villain in her last two movies. Taylor-Joy is at the moment one of the most promising young actresses in Hollywood, and it’s going to be interesting to follow her career.

It should be noted that this movie is pure entertainment, if you expect a realistic portrayal of DID, this is not your film. At the same time, if you expect that Kevin’s mental illness is only a twist device, you will be surprised. M. Night Shyamalan is finally back in the director’s chair!

 

Split (2016); written & directed by M. Night Shyamalan; with James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley; PG-13; 117 min.

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