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Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 07:28 pm

Tepid Pace Nearly Undoes "Split"

I’m glad that M. Night Shyamalan has wandered out of the wilderness of big budget mistakes and has returned to the world of modest thrillers. His distinct voice has been sorely missed in the genre, something I didn’t realize until the arrival last year of The Visit, an entertaining piece of business that followed the director’s method to a tee, providing the audience with an odd premise that gets creepier and creepier as it goes, all capped off with a satisfactory twist ending.

Hedwig (James McEvoy) is one of the many personalities on display in Split.
Courtesy Universal Pictures.

His latest effort is more of the same, albeit less successful in execution. Split deals with a troubled man by the name of Kevin, or is it Barry?  Then again it could be Hedwig.  Actually, they’re all the same person as James McAvoy gets to show his range, and then some, as his character has 23 different personalities and is actually working on a 24th.  He has issues, to say the least, and while he does his best to contain his demons, sometimes that’s not good enough, as Dennis succumbs to his basest desires and kidnaps three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula).

This sets up an interesting game of cat-and-mouse as the trio of captives have a hard time assessing the danger they’re in, what with their captor changing personalities at the drop of a dime.  Also of note, is an interesting theory floated by therapist Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who posits that those suffering with multiple personalities are actually on a higher evolutionary plain than the rest of us.  Needless to say, she’s proven correct in a most horrific manner

Kevin (James McAvoy) and (Anya Taylor-Joy) engage in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse in Split.
Courtesy Universal Pictures.

While the premise is solid, the film trips itself up with far too many lapses in logic.  There are numerous occasions where our heroines could escape or incapacitate their captor but don’t, obvious manipulations used to prolong the plot.  In addition, Shyamalan’s deliberate sense of pacing kills some of the suspense in the third act, leaving the viewer impatient for his trademark, out-of-left field ending.  He doesn’t disappoint in this regard but it’s long haul to the payoff, as the film could use a 20-minute trim.

 To be sure, Split contains a vital theme, taking the notion that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger to the nth degree, while its portrait of young women who refuse to victimized is timely and vital.  I just wish it hadn’t taken so long to get to these salient points.

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