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Split: James McAvoy shines in M. Night Shyamalan’s psycho-thriller

Split delves into the mysterious recesses of a man with multiple personalities, played by James McAvoy.

Universal Pictures

3 out of 4 stars

Written by
M. Night Shyamalan
Directed by
M. Night Shyamalan
James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley

And the nominees for the best actor in a psycho-thriller role are all James McAvoy. In M. Night Shyamalan's Split, the Scottish actor dazzles as a teenage-girl-abducting creepo with multiple personalities, an affliction that is catnip to actors, from Joanne Woodward and Tony Perkins on down. McAvoy's shorn pate is a blank canvas for marvellous physical transformations, from a lisping boy to a camp fashion designer to a menacing kidnapper with OCD. Within the psychiatric patient Kevin there are 23 "alters," of which a handful are acted out by McAvoy. His fascinated therapist sees the condition as the brain unlocking its superpowers, with distinct physiological changes triggered. (Thinking about autism and 2016's The Accountant, it should probably be seen as a positive development that filmmakers are presenting "disorders" as advantages.) The problem with Shyamalan's spin on dissociative identity disorder is that for all the dissociation, why are all 23 identities cool with locking terrified girls in a basement? Anyway, I'm of two minds when it comes to Split: McAvoy is excellent, but, for pure squeals and entertainment, the film falls short of Shyamalan's The Visit from 2015.

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