M. Night Shyamalan is well known for his hits & misses, creating classics such as The Sixth Sense and Signs and, more recently, creating memeworthy duds like The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth. I feel its safe to say that this is up there with his classic hits, as its an intense journey of the mind, a constant battle of words and wits all within an quietly haunting atmosphere which feels ready to explode on a pin drop.
James McAvoy is perfectly cast in the lead role as a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder, struggling to control the constant internal battles of his personalities fighting to be the priority personality, a battle which leads him to kidnap three young girls in order to please his most powerful personalities ritualistic beliefs of purity and impurity. His performance starts off creepily understated and within the first 5 or 10 minutes he manages to create an eerily intense atmosphere merely with his presence as he has little dialogue at all. His performance continues to increase with eeriness & intensity as the story progresses and we are introduced to the numerous other personalities and his relationship with the kidnap victims develops. I could imagine that his earlier work as the lead role in the 2013 dark comedy Filth, playing a dirty cop with a borderline personality disorder, was a key part of this casting as its another exceptional, similarly psychotic performance, which I thoroughly recommend.
The supporting roles of the three kidnap victims Casey, Marcia & Claire (Anya Taylor-Joy, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson) and McAvoy’s psychiatrist Dr Fletcher (Betty Buckley) are also perfectly cast as they all add their own narrative to the story as they try to manage their relationship with McAvoy’s lead character, each one trying to decipher his sanity and outsmart him in order to protect themselves. This leads to a number of interesting dynamics between all the characters, with McAvoy trying to deceive Dr Fletcher whilst one alternate personality of his is crying out for help from her, leading Dr Fletcher to try and covertly outsmart him and discover the inner workings of his psyche. All whilst Casey, Marcia & Claire are trying to put their differences aside, band together and find the best solution to their dire situation. This leads Casey to take charge and begin attempting to outsmart McAvoy’s multiple personalities by pitting them against one another and deceiving the most susceptible ones in order to gain an escape, in turn creating a relationship which in itself has many unexpected turns.
The film is superbly made and the multiple relationships and stories all manage to coexist without one outshining or overpowering the other, most notably with the backstory of Casey, a subject of child abuse, whose personal side story slowly becomes more linked to the overall story and seems to play a key part in the overall outcome. The pacing of the film is excellently done also, with the slow pace suspense filled scenes split up with equally suspenseful, yet comedic, scenes led by McAvoy’s ever changing personalities creating awkwardly funny scenarios, which you can’t help but laugh at no matter how dark the situation is. All this brilliant storytelling leads to an equally brilliant, somewhat bittersweet, ending which sticks with the audience, leaving them with a great deal on their mind regarding morality, life in general and maybe even their own sanity.
I came into this movie expecting a smartly made horror, comprised of tactically placed jump scares and fresh takes on classic horror clichés. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was instead, a deep and dark psychological thriller/horror which toys with your mind taking you on an ever changing journey of the human psyche focusing more on the power of brain rather than brawn, with an exceptional performance from James McAvoy leading the way. The subject matter of the story and the incredible manner in which it is told, could lead you to take many deeper messages from the story regarding how mental conditions shouldn’t be seen as disadvantages, dark periods of time from your past can be used to empower you in the future and how powerful a tool the human brain can be, but that could just be me trying to use my brain too hard after watching this film, hence why there’s a lot of big words in this review with 4 or more syllables.