Sunday, April 16, 2017

Video review: "Split"

Yes, “Split” is based on one of the oldest scary movie clichés there is: split personalities. The film, from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, scores no points for originality. It’s about a villain who has 23 distinct identities, who each vie with each other for time “in the light.”

We watch as his not-hapless (hapful?) victim (Anya Taylor-Joy) struggles to negotiate this delicate balance of power, doing whatever she can to stay alive and thwart her enemy … or should that be plural?

Still, it’s a surprisingly effective thriller that understands the audience is going to laugh during parts of the movie. Rather than flee from this expectation, Shyamalan lands on it with both feet and milks the laughs when appropriate.

That doesn’t change the fact the film is very creepy and effective at times, anchored by James McAvoy’s performance in the lead role.

When we first meet him he’s Dennis, a massively strong but dimwitted type who has a forbidden fascination with young girls. He’s kidnapped three of them (Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula play the other two) and has them ensconced in his underground bunker. We seem to be heading to a dark place.

But then we meet Patricia, a charming woman, and later Barry, a gregarious fashion designer, and Hedwig, a mischievous 9-year-old lad. As with other split personality movies, they don’t bother to flesh out the other 19 identities to any great degree.

Even as the girls try to find a way out of their captivity, their captor sneaks away to see his therapist (Betty Buckley). She has some revolutionary ideas about patients like him, arguing that multiple personalities represent the next stage of human evolution. The mind’s ability to believe anything can even grant the body supernatural powers, she supposes -- a theory that we know is going to be tested.

Even as it trundles toward a final act we surely can guess well ahead of time, “Split” rarely fails to entertain. It’s downright disturbing how giggles and shrieks go together so well.

Bonus features are ample, and are the same for DVD and Blu-ray editions.

These include an alternate ending, deleted scenes, a making-of documentary, and in-depth features on McAvoy’s transformations and Shyamalan’s unique filmmaking process.



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