Split (2016)

(Video On-Demand, July 2017) Can filmmakers have a second wind? It’s too early to tell for M. Night Shyamalan, but after the triple-barreled nadir of The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth (each of which should have been career-destroying for anyone else), he appears to be on the rebound. I don’t think much of The Visit, but it was a step up, and with Split he’s back to making good movies again. Running wild with the controversial concept of multiple personality disorder (even acknowledging the controversy), Split posits an antagonist with 23 personalities, kidnapping three girls even as a terrifying 24th personality threatens to emerge. James McAvoy has the good fortune of playing the lead character, slipping in and out of various roles and even faking some self-impersonations as the personalities try to pass off for each other. It’s a great performance from an actor who seems to get better and better every year. Anya Taylor-Joy is also very good as the smartest of the three kidnapped girls. Shyamalan himself seems back in form both as a writer and as a director—while neither are as good as in the films that made him famous, Split is an engaging thriller that edges closer and closer to supernatural horror as it goes on. The transition isn’t frustrating, and the ending clearly indicates that we’ve been set up for a follow-up or two. Split isn’t quite a perfect film (it spins its wheels quite a bit at first, goes a bit too dark at times and runs a bit too long) but it’s quite an improvement for Shyamalan, who may be taken off my blacklist after all.

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