Year Released: 2017
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley
(PG-13, 116 min.)
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery and Suspense
“An individual with different personalities can change their body chemistry with their thoughts.” Dr. Karen Fletcher
Okay, it’s not another Sixth Sense, but M. Night Shyamalan’s latest venture is pretty decent. Certainly much better than the trailer, which doesn’t do it justice.
Shyamalan, our famous writer/director sets up a kidnapping early on, complete with a lockdown in a subterranean sunless room, but he shifts the usual tropes of that genre.
Our kidnapper (James McAvoy) appears as three separate personas to captives Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Haley (Claire Benoit), and Marcia (Jessica Sula):
Dennis, neatly dressed and seemingly more worried about the cleanliness of the girls’ bathroom, in which he has placed a fresh flower, than anything else.
Patricia, prim in a pleated skirt and turtleneck, who assures them, “Don’t worry. He’s not allowed to touch you.”
And then there’s Hedwig, a supposed 9-year-old, who introduces himself, and then tells the girls that “I have red socks.”
Nine-year-old Hedwig acts and talks much more like a 5-year-old. Either that, or all five of my grandchildren have just been extremely precocious in their 9th year.
And with his annoying lisp and cloying personality, it is the relatively innocent Hedwig who repels this critic, more so than the more malevolent personalities that inhabit that same body. Perhaps Hedwig’s dominance in the trailer is what initially made me not want to see the film.
Annoying as all the Split personalities are, they are certainly not anything like the dark and deranged perps displayed weekly on TV’s Criminal Minds.
However, perhaps the very bland behavior of the kidnapper’s personalities creates an ambivalence that is more threatening than outright undisguised evil. They certainly remind us of John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane.
In the hands of another actor, Howard might come off as one dimensional, but John Goodman’s performance brings an ambivalent complexity to the role. On the one hand, he is a fussy homebody, referring to his “heirloom dining table” with pride, and insisting that meals are a sit down “family” affair. The elaborate bunker is well stocked with its own functioning jukebox, which Howard plays with a smile and something almost approaching gaiety.
Split's kidnapper doesn’t talk to dead people, just to his psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley). These conversations add an interesting texture not anticipated in the trailer, which focuses mostly the thriller aspects of the film. Barry, the dominant personality who meets with her weekly is a “gay fashionista.” But Dr. Fletcher is quite perceptive and sees through the deceits of that persona. Barry straightens something on her table in way of Kevin, the OCD personality who has been banned by the others because of his predilection to watch nude girls dance.
Of course, Dr. Fletcher may be perceptive, but she is not too bright, in the way of otherwise bright academics outside in the real world. Or perhaps she is too trusting or complacent in her expertise...
Another interesting character is Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), the "odd man out" of the three girls, caught up in the kidnapping by accident. She doesn’t panic into reckless escape attempts as the other two do, and we learn the origins of her cynicism through a series of flashbacks. This isn’t the first time the doe-eyed beauty has been trapped in a no win situation.
But what really elevates this film is the virtuoso performance by James McAvoy in the lead role. We do not actually see all 23 (or should I say 24) personalities, but the handful we do are each separate works of arts. In particular, in a final scene where he morphs from one personality to another within seconds, we are duly impressed, reminding those of us of a certain age of Joan Woodward’s Oscar winning performance in The Three Faces of Eve (1957).
Watching McAvoy is in itself worth the price of admission. You will not be disappointed.
Though Split takes place in the city of brotherly love, none of that good fellowship permeates the subterranean lair where our 3 kidnap victims are held captive.
And you are going to feel a bit creeped out yourself after watching them suffer and try to escape. I mean, one jailer is bad enough, but when he keeps morphing into other equally freaky personalities, it’s enough to make anyone frazzled.
So let's soothe your nerves and anxious tummy with this delicious Philly Cheese Steak Soup. Warm, creamy, and super delicious.
Philly Cheese Steak Soup
3/4 cup butter
1 (8 ounce) package sliced fresh mushrooms
1 white onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups milk
1 (10.5 ounce) can beef consomme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (8 ounce) package provolone cheese, diced
3/4 pound sliced roast beef, chopped
Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat; cook and stir mushrooms, onion, and bell pepper in the hot pot until tender, about 5 minutes. Add flour and continue to cook and stir until flour is golden, about 5 minutes more.
Gradually whisk milk into vegetable mixture and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add beef consomme; season soup with salt and pepper. Slowly stir provolone cheese into soup until cheese is melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in roast beef.