Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by M. Night Shyamalan, Jason Blum & Marc Bienstock
Music by West Dylan Thordson
Cinematography by Mike Gioulakis
Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Hayley Lu Richardson & Jessica Sula
UK release date: 27th January 2017
Feature running time: 117 minutes
Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, and must try and escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th. (Source: IMDB)
Its always refreshing to see a widely known popular film-maker like M. Night Shyamalan whom after dishing out a string of movie disasters such as The Happening and Lady in The Water, finds himself back on his feet again with 2015’s The Visit and now this, his latest picture exploring mental illness as its main subject area. More specifically delving into Dissociative Identity Disorder; rather commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder.
Shyamalan has always been a genius with his creative opening credit sequences to all his films and make no mistake, this one is no less inventive; creating an eerie and unsettling opening title sequence that really sets the overall atmosphere and tone of the film that we unexpectedly let ourselves in for.
James McAvoy gives an absolutely brilliant multi-layered and twisted performance as the character of Kevin Wendell Crumb, a young but troubled man who has been diagnosed with the split personality disorder of 23 separate personalities – some of which come into conflict with one another, while others are allies. Its never the easiest feat for any actor to play multiple roles in one film and to do it really well so therefore many plaudits have to be handed over to McAvoy for being able to pull it off so remarkably. He is able to embody each personality, differentiating them all individually of the ones we get to see through separate and effective uses of body language and voice. You forget you’re watching McAvoy simply just acting as he loses himself in each character, you can tell he relished every second being on screen by having so much fun juggling all these different personality types.
Out of all the 23 split personalities that is known, only 7 of them really awaken through Kevin that viewers become witness to. In a film just under two hours in running time, if chosen to explore and confront any more of Kevin’s alternating personalities, the movie could have well run the risk of just being a bit too much and far confusing for audience members to get their heads around. The fact that Shyamalan holds back on this works well in his favour as its these ‘characters’ that help drive the story along at a reasonably good pace.
Carrying on from her leading role success in last year’s The Witch, Anya Taylor-Joy gives another great performance as Casey Cooke, one of the three teenage girls kidnapped by Kevin. Casey is a lot more smarter than her two friends; both of whom just want to attack Kevin when the right time comes with every ounce of effort they can muster in the hope it would give them enough time to finally escape. Casey however, is much more calmer and forward thinking than that by using her sharp edged wit to try and play off Kevin’s different personalities against each other with the desperation that one of them will reluctantly help guide her out to safety from the underground basement that all 3 find themselves imprisoned within.
As the film progresses and gradually unlocks the mystery of why the girls have been locked up in the first place, it sporadically cuts back to frequent flashbacks into Casey’s past, revealing she suffered a traumatic childhood resulting in possible sexual child abuse, that in some ways is not all that different to Kevin’s own upbringing; which in effect causes his mentally ill condition in his later stages. This also lends itself to the most plausible conclusion of why Casey is able to twist things to her own advantage if it means for her and the others to get out alive while they still can.
Shyamalan as a film-maker has always strongly believed in the notion ‘less is more’ by leaving any gory or violent parts solely down to the viewer’s imagination and there are plenty of fantastic camera angles and shots he uses that really emphasise on this.
Of course, what would a new film by M. Night Shyamalan be without one of his traditional cameo appearances ripped straight from Hitchcock lurking in there somewhere? However, more recently his appearances have become more than what I would call a cameo as he sometimes integrates himself into his own films as a character that serves as an integral plot device – see Signs for example of this.
After being out on general release for the last three weeks now, there’s been no doubt a lot of talk about its ending. Most of you probably know what that is but I definitely won’t reveal any spoilers to what it actually ends up being in case there are people who still haven’t managed to watch the film yet. Definitely no one saw it coming, I think I actually shouted out ‘WHAAAAAT?’ in a packed out cinema when it happened. Seeing the film a second time made the whole experience of it even more interesting and engaging as it gives everything else leading up to its final climax a whole new perspective on pretty much everything that unfolds out in front of you.