[Screen It]

(2017) (James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy) (PG-13)

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Suspense/Thriller: Three teenage girls must contend with a man -- who suffers from a multiple personality disorder -- kidnapping them.
Kevin Wendell Crumb (JAMES McAVOY) is a young man who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder and has 23 distinct personalities as identified by his therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (BETTY BUCKLEY). They range from a nine-year-old, Hedwig, to fashion designer Barry, and those who seem to rule them and the rest, Dennis and Patricia.

Unbeknownst to Karen, one of Kevin's personalities has gone out and abducted three teenagers -- friends Claire (HALEY LU RICHARDSON) and Marcia (JESSICA SULA) and their school's outcast, Casey (ANYA TAYLOR-JOY) -- and locked them inside a windowless room. The girls are terrified, especially when they realize their abductor is mentally unstable as his various personalities come to visit them. Having dealt with trauma in her childhood at the hands of her uncle, John (BRAD WILLIAM HENKE), while camping with her father (SEBASTIAN ARCELUS), Casey seems best equipped to deal with the uncertain situation, and she tries to convince Hedwig to help them escape.

But the boy won't, especially since he knows that "The Beast" is on his way, something that Dennis discusses with Dr. Fletcher over their various unscheduled sessions. With Karen becoming increasingly concerned about changes in Kevin's behavior, the girls back in his hidden lair do what they can to try to escape before Kevin's ominous-sounding 24th personality arrives.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
When it comes to the world of telling stories through movies, imagination is the only limit when it comes to characters that will appear as the antagonistic villain or villains. The vast majority only have one, but sometimes a pair or team of them will show up to make life miserable for the protagonist(s). With the former, it's always the hero vs. the villain, but in the latter, sometimes the villains end up fighting among themselves, thus giving the main character a chance to pit one or more of them against each other.

And in the case of "Split," all of that has been funneled down into one character -- with twenty-three personalities -- who kidnaps three teenage girls for the pending arrival of the twenty-fourth in this suspense flick that's actually fairly good.

Of course, when you hear that filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan is the mastermind behind this offering as both writer and director, you might have a mixed reaction. After all, he made a big splash with "The Sixth Sense" and then followed that up with hits such as "Unbreakable" and "Signs." But then he became a victim of his own success (and of his continued reliance on twist endings) in the likes of "The Village" before completely derailing with a number of big-budget disasters, "The Last Airbender" and "After Earth," that further sullied his reputation.

But he then rebounded with the low-budget thriller "The Visit," and thankfully continues that return to good cinema graces with this offering. In it, James McAvoy gets to show off his acting chops as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a young man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder) who's been seeing a therapist (Betty Buckley) who's a renowned expert in the field. She's apparently met most of his personalities -- that range from a protective woman to a male fashion designer and a 9-year-old boy, among others -- and has a good working relationship with him (and them).

Little does she know, however, that at the very beginning of this tale one or more of those personalities has abducted three teenage girls (played by Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Anya Taylor-Joy) from the King of Prussia Mall parking lot, sprayed some sort of knockout gas into their faces, and now has them captive inside a windowless room in some sort of building that's partially and slowly revealed as the story progresses.

They initially figure he's just some crazed lunatic who's probably going to rape and kill them, but Casey is the first to realize he's sporting a number of personalities in that closely shorn noggin of his. And when she finally meets the prepubescent Hedwig, she thinks she might have found a way out if she can just convince the boy to let them go. But he informs them that another "person" is coming and that the girls aren't going to like that or what he does to them.

As that unfolds, Shyamalan mixes in scenes of the villain(s) meeting the shrink, but also various flashback ones to Casey as a young girl, camping and getting hunting lessons from her father (Sebastian Arcelus) and uncle (Brad William Henke). But as those continue, we soon learn that the latter had an unsavory appetite of sorts for her, all of which will make viewers wonder -- especially considering the filmmaker's proclivity and track record of including third act surprise switcheroos into his works -- that something isn't exactly what it seems. And thus some of you could end up a little (or a lot) distracted by trying to figure out the big twist.

There is one, of sorts, but unless you've heard inklings of what that might be and relate to, you're probably going to be hard pressed to guess this one correctly. Thankfully it's not a groan inducer and it is somewhat intriguing, but it's also completely unnecessary, as are some sort of sci-fi elements thrown into the mix about the brain-body connection. I know some of that has proven to be true, but the filmmaker takes that a little too far in my opinion and thus changes the film's tone when that wasn't necessary.

It doesn't ruin the film by any means, but it certainly provides an unexpected bump off those tracks and easily could have caused another derailment for Shyamalan who otherwise ratchets up the suspense, intrigue, and dread in an old-fashioned sort of way. While the perfectionist side of me would have preferred keeping all of that simple instead of trying to be cute and clever, the average moviegoer in me enjoyed enough of the rest of the flick to avoid a split decision on "Split." It rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed January 17, 2017 / Posted January 20, 2017

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