Split is a serviceable thriller thanks to a great performance by James McAvoy and a return to form by M. Night Shyamalan, but the movie is driven by exploitative and derivative ideas.

Though Kevin (James McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him—as well as everyone around him—as the walls between his compartments shatter apart.

After a worn out shtick and a string of disappointments, Shyamalan is slowly redeeming himself.

The once famed Six Sense director has come up with a movie that has garnered some attention mostly because of James McAvoy.

He delivers a hammy but interesting performance as Kevin with multiple personalities. He’s supported by The Witch breakout star Anya Taylor Joy who plays one his victims and Betty Buckley as his therapist.

Fortunately their talents are not wasted as Shyamalan returns to his roots after his failed stint as a director for hire. Split is executed well enough to deliver a silly yet engaging origins story.

The plot weaves in three perspectives that build a sense of mystery and destiny. Kevin’s multiple personalities wrestle for control, a few of which have hatched a plan for the three captives. One of them is repressed teen Casey, who’s survival instincts tell of a troubled past. Meanwhile, dedicated therapist Dr. Fletcher try to convince the scientific community of a medical breakthrough that borders on the supernatural.

Framing and set design helps in making otherwise silly scenes into compelling moments. In one scene as Casey wakes up to find Patricia standing next to her bed holding a tray of food, the camera shows the turtleneck wearing “alter” looking down with a smile on his face. Amplified by the convincing performance of McAvoy, the moment is both funny and creepy at the same.

While these entertaining elements provide a redemptive turn for Shyamalan as a director, Split can’t hide the fact that its an exploitation flick.

Yes, the premise is unnerving enough – three teenage girls are locked up in a window-less room that’s opened once a while by a man with a different identity, all foretelling an impending demise from a mysterious figure that is yet to manifest from within. Once again, another horror movie posits that people with personality disorders will eventually become batshit crazy criminals that Joker will love.

Casey is notably an anti-final girl but her whole character is defined by abuse. Her lurid backstory leads to a conclusion that trauma makes her pure. The rest of the abducted girls are left with little clothes and little to do.

Split’s rote girls-in-peril story eventually trips over contrivances and cliches. The plot also drags in places because of exposition heavy interludes.

Overall, the movie is salvaged by James McAvoy as he provides the necessary performance to elevate Split beyond its B-movie elements. The ending reveals a Marvel-esque twist, an improvement from Shyamalan’s gimmicky plot twist endings.

Split offers a lean dark approach to the origins story which can serve as a palate cleanser from superhero adaptations that are reduced to franchise platforms. At a certain extent, it takes a look at how the medical community can end up dismissing the mentally ill over scientific technicalities and the dynamics behind victimization. However, you’d have to get past its derivative and tasteless ideas.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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