Fantastic Fest Review: ‘SPLIT’ – a combination punch of terror and bada**

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Preston Barta // Editor

SPLIT | 116 min
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoyAnya Taylor-JoyHaley Lu RichardsonJessica Sula and Betty Buckley

This review marks a difficult time to write. Not because I’m not sure of how I felt walking out of my screening at Fantastic Fest, but because to talk too much about SPLIT is almost a nose-dive into spoiler territory. Let’s just say it’s definitely one of those movies we recommend going in as cold as possible, where the less you know is better. However, it’s still my job to write about this film, so I’ll carefully tip-toe around the concept as much as possible and just focus on the sheer feeling of awesome it gives you.

SPLIT is set up to be your basic “man abducts teenagers story,” but as M. Night Shyamalan (THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE) showcased with last year’s THE VISIT, he paints everything but by-the-numbers. It’s actually an incredibly clever and fun take on classic thriller movie tropes.

Alright, so here’s where I get a little more in depth and touch on some of the elements explored in the film’s trailer (you can watch below): SPLIT centers on three teenagers (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) who are abducted by a man named Kevin (a killer-good James McAvoy).

Did I mention Kevin has at least 23 different personalities? This fact really greases this movie’s wheels.

James McAvoy gives a haunting performance as Kevin in SPLIT. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

James McAvoy gives a haunting performance as Kevin in SPLIT. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

You could certainly call SPLIT a postmodern take on confined-thrillers. What makes it stand out is how it plays with its genres. It’s thrilling, sure– as shown when one of the girls manages to escape the room, with one of Kevin’s more creepy personalities on the other side. It’s also quite often comedic and has some real side-splitting scenes that have that Shyamalan touch he expressed in THE VISIT. One such sequence involves another one of Kevin’s personalities expressing his thoughts on Kanye West jam sessions.

Without giving away too many of the specifics to the personalities, but McAvoy (X-MEN franchise) gives his most daring performance yet. It’s on full display when his character changes in and out of personalities within seconds.

The girls look the part of being scared and clueless in their situation, but the brains that Shyamalan gives them is more admirable than we can say of most movies like it. Taylor-Joy – who is the breakout star of 2016, with THE WITCH and MORGAN under her belt – carries the film as Casey. She portrays Casey as a patient and smart girl who pulls from the dark times in her past to help push herself through the present. It’s a complex and well drawn character on Shyamalan’s part.

As the film goes on, SPLIT begins to add more and more fascinating components. The final act is principally audacious, delving into a whole other level of reveals that are largely crowd-pleasing and bold.

Suffice to say, Shyamalan is back!… and he has me eagerly awaiting his next move.

SPLIT had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest on Sept. 26. The film opens nationwide on Jan. 20, 2017.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.

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