James McAvoy Is Superb, Night Shyamalan Is Not!
Dr. Fletcher has a theory about people with Multiple Personality Disorder: that they can assume different physical characteristics when under the influence of different personalities. One of her patients has 23 personalities. We see one of them kidnap three girls from a parking lot and imprison them, becoming increasingly violent as different personalities take over. We never really understand why and after a while the needless kidnapping fails to keep you attention.
Three girls one their way home after a birthday party when the father, who is loading the presents in the back of the car is hit and the car is hijacked by a bald man (James McAvoy) who claims later that he has been stalking them. But he realises that he has to kidnap the third girl who is inadvertently in the car too. The girls find themselves in a bizarre unclean basement with a strangely clean bathroom. You notice this because the bald guy keeps cleaning up stuff and we know how people with a cleanliness fetish: how come other things are unclean and shabby? Or are other personalities okay with the general mess and he lets them be?
James McAvoy plays Kevin Wendell Crumb, a young man who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder proves that his acting chops extend beyond this ridiculous movie. He portrays Hedwig, a nine year old (in track pant suit), Patricia (in a skirt and shawl of course) and the stern Kevin seamlessly. He basically saves the film because the shots of his transformation from one personality to another are a treat to watch.
That doesn’t alas extend to the whole movie. This would have been an exploitative movie if one of the characters who kidnaps the girls had actually given in to his fetish and made the girls dance in their under things. But conveniently that doesn’t happen and the director makes up a story about how all the characters are mutating into a single powerful super human: The Beast.
Really? Why is there a need for the beast? No explanation. Who is the character who needs insulin shots? No explanation. Why is Hedwig listening to crazy, grown up music when a nine year old playing Barney the dinosaur song, ‘I love you, you love me, we’re all happy family...’ would have come across as really sinister? No explanation. Why does Miss Patricia show up? She’s neither menacing nor mean. No explanations are given. Why is Barry designing clothes? He’s not using the skins of his victims to make clothes. But the director gives no explanation. Feels like such a waste of time trying to care for any of the characters, who seem to have been chosen randomly.
Then there are the three girls. Casey is obviously the weird one. We see flashbacks of her facing a predator nastier than Kevin. So she’s unafraid. But that she’s molested by her uncle is shown in the most ham handed way. Subtlety dies there.
The other two girls seem to be spouting dumb ‘self-defense’ ideas but they do nothing but sound breathless, and dumb. Dr. Fletcher seems to be on the edge of tears all the time. You begin to think she’s also suffering from the same disorder.
But it’s not like all is lost. There are a couple of flashes of brilliance which show us what the film could have been. Hedwig tells Casey (Anya Taylor Joy, you last saw her in the silly mutant film called Morgan) his room has a window. Casey, hopeful of an escape, persuades Hedwig to take her to the window. What she sees is surprising both to her and the audience. Had the director paid a little attention to the story, more than his elevator pitch (‘Let’s make a movie about a mild man with wild and dangerous multiple personalities!’), this movie could have been scary even. But every scene is a dead end, and the big ugly beast just makes you want to slap him..
It’s such a relief when it’s over, and the very silly ‘trying hard to be sinister’ end where surprising rescue of Casey (how did the rescuer get there? Perhaps the director was fed up of the story and needed to end it) hands her over to her abuser. You groan again. James McAvoy’s brilliance might blind some people to the yawning gaps in the movie logic. But the rest of us wondering whatever happened to the man who made The Sixth Sense.
(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)