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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.

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