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SPLIT

SYNOPSIS: Three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula) are kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy), a man with a multiple personality disorder who is being treated by empathetic psychiatrist Dr Karen Buckley (Betty Buckley).

Review by Louise Keller:
A terrifying psycho thriller, an acting showcase for James McAvoy, and a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan, whose body of work since his brilliant The Sixth Sense has otherwise been a mess. Shyamalan's focus is on the power of the dysfunctional mind and there is plenty of scope with which to work: his central character embodies a gaggle of different personalities that range from the juvenile to the psychotic.

For McAvoy, the role of Kevin is a gift, allowing the Scottish actor to show his range and morph from one character to another with few props, relying mainly on facial expressions, body language, accents and tonal variances. Refraining from cheap mannerisms, he utilizes subtlety in portraying the complex traits of his troubled characters. Some audience members expressed their discomfort with intermittent laughter at the media screening I attended as McAvoy's different personalities were introduced.

The notion of changing body chemistry with thoughts is a fascinating one and McAvoy shifts easily from effeminate fashion designer, music-loving 9 year old, extraverted leader and female paprika lover to name but a few. 'Asian music aids digestion' is the one of the film's most memorable lines. The contrast and conflicting morals of the different personalities provides food for thought as the notion of a person becoming what they believe they are is canvassed.

An effective growling soundscape sets the mood and full use is made of cinematic tricks that create an unsettling reality, prompting audiences to perch precariously on the edge of their seats. It's an original premise (multi-personalities are usually used in the context of a reveal) and although the construct becomes obvious early on, the film holds our attention throughout, despite the overdone sleight of hand on which Shyamalan has made his name.

The three teenage girls abducted by Kevin are all excellent, especially Anya Taylor-Joy as the outsider Casey, whose mind-set is explained in a series of flashbacks to her childhood. Taylor-Joy's wide-set eyes and ethereal features are striking and it is clear from the outset that Casey is far better equipped than the other two girls to deal with their captor on his terms. Betty Buckley, who appeared in Shyamalan's The Happening, is sympathetic as Kevin's shrink, although some of her actions are surely less than prudent in professional terms.

Tension builds as the possible emergence of a deadly new personality is revealed. A frenetic percussive score beats us into submission as the frightening climactic sequence begins and Shyamalan makes good use of straight to camera cinematography in some of the most powerful exchanges. These occur between McAvoy and Taylor-Joy; it is the tension that builds between the two that form the film's most chilling sequences. As for the ending, Shyamalan (who plays a building security officer in his customary onscreen cameo) tries to be a little too clever for his own good. But that is a matter of opinion.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

SPLIT (MA15+)
(US, 2016)

CAST: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson

PRODUCER: M. Night Shyamalan, Jason Blum, Marc Bienstock

DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan

SCRIPT: M. Night Shyamalan

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mike Gioulakis

EDITOR: Luke Franco Ciarrochhi

MUSIC: West Dylan Thordson

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mara LePere-Schloop

RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 26, 2017







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