James McAvoy earns some good reviews for playing a psychiatric patient with 23 personalities.
M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” is a psychological horror film that follows the kidnapping of three high-school girls by an abductor named Kevin (James McAvoy) who has 23 distinct personalities. The film is getting mixed reviews both for its acting and script by Shyamalan, who is known for using unusual twists and turns that leave audiences guessing until the last frame.
Moira Macdonald of the Seattle Times says Shyamalan’s latest film is a run-of-the-mill horror flick:
You can see why McAvoy was drawn to the role — it’s as if he’s playing every character in a very populated if not particularly well-scripted play — and he demonstrates a shellacked creepiness that’s effective. But Shyamalan can’t find much else that’s new or appealing in this overlong girls-in-peril exercise. Except for a late Shyamalan-ish wink at the audience, “Split” is rarely fun or frightening. It’s not “The Happening,” but it’s not really happening, either.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says the movie succeeds, mostly because McAvoy raises the bar on a banal girls-in-peril plot:
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James McAvoy acts the hell out of 23 roles in Split, the story of Kevin, a psychiatric patient afflicted with dissociative identity disorder (DID). Actually, the actor introduces us to only a handful of these personalities. Too many “alters,” as they’re called, might spoil the brew cooked up by writer-director M. Night Shyamalan in one of his best psychological thrillers.
Brian Truitt of USA Today says the secret to Shyamalan’s best movies is not the plot twist, but a great acting performance:
McAvoy is superb in a taxing role. Having to play Kevin’s various sides is a physical role where the Scottish actor proves himself a real chameleon. He fully inhabits each of the characters, sometimes changing accent, other times switching wardrobe, but McAvoy makes it clear they’re all part of the same person and not someone wildly different — for example, Patricia is very much a woman but doesn’t wear a wig to feminize Kevin’s shaved head.
Alan Scherstuhl from the Village Voice found the movie to be cruel and humorless and the climax conventional:
“Split’s” also cruel and humorless by Shyamalan’s standards, with a wearyingly conventional climax and too many scenes of the villain (James McAvoy) ticking between his multiple personalities — he’s got 23, none of which prove especially compelling. While Kevin (McAvoy) alters his pitch and growls about his need to feed the impure girls he’s imprisoned to some beast, you’re left with little to think about besides whether or not a twist is coming. You won’t be alone; when I typed “Split M Night Shyamalan” into a search bar, Google’s first two autofill completions of the phrase were “twist” and “ending.”
Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out says Shyamalan flaunts the same-old tricks:
“Split” trots out many of Shyamalan’s pet moves (it’s amazing how well we know this filmmaker), including his tendency to infuse genre nonsense with the deeper trauma of child abuse. A lot of the picture works better in flashback, as we learn what made our young heroine so steely. Less successful are endless therapy sessions between McAvoy’s varying personae (think-piece alert: They include a gay fashion designer, a spiritually minded woman and a scared little boy) and his maternal therapist (Betty Buckley), who must be charging him by the minute. The screws don’t really tighten—they clamp closed: Suddenly there’s a lot of running around and screaming.