James McAvoy Twists Himself Into More Than A Dozen Creepy Characters In M. Night Shyamalan’s Split
Over his 25-year-long career as a filmmaker, audiences have developed a sixth sense for M. Night Shyamalan movies: as in, they instinctively know that there’s a good chance they’re in for a letdown. Occasionally, the writer/director will prove us wrong (see: Signs). With Split, his latest horror-thriller with a literal psychological bend, Shyamalan is likely to win back some supporters—thanks, in large part, to some awe-inspiring acting from James McAvoy.
McAvoy plays Kevin… and Barry and Hedwig and Dennis and Patricia—23 (or 24, it’s up for debate) distinct personalities in total, all taking up residence in one troubled body.
Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) is Casey, a withdrawn art school student surrounded by the millennial version of mean girls—young women so steeped in inclusivity and empowerment that they’ll reluctantly invite even the most sullen girl in the class to their birthday parties. It’s following said birthday party that one of McAvoy’s darker personas kidnaps, in broad daylight, Casey and two of her far less sulky classmates from the parking lot of an Olive Garden-esque restaurant.
But forget them, because Shyamalan does. Early on in the first act, they’re reduced to the standard horror movie archetypes—the types of women who deserve to be punished and the type that gets to (barely) escape it.
The movie is all about McAvoy, who, through his performance and some clever camera work, seems to shrink and expand and morph into entirely different people as the voices in his head take their turn in what he refers to as “the light”. Lately, Barry, a nice guy who’s been holding things down inside this crowded headspace, has been pushed out of the light by a trio of more malevolent voices obsessed with bringing something even darker to the surface. (One of the personas is Hedwig, a nine-year-old Kanye West fan whose dance moves would be hilarious if you weren’t so thoroughly creeped out by the guy performing them.)
As the three conspire to achieve a mysterious end (one in which the girls have a small role, in the way that mice have a role in the life of a boa constrictor) Barry frantically emails his therapist (Betty Buckley) for help in a battle of wills that’s taking place inside a single guy. McAvoy’s most impressive work happens in the scenes where he shows up for his weekly appointments with her, playing Dennis pretending to be Barry—like Tatiana Maslany playing one clone pretending to be another on Orphan Black. It’s not a trick, it’s actual magic.
Split will divide audiences into at least 24 different camps on January 20 (that’s today). Check out the trailer below.