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Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan goes lurid in "Split," a psychological horror thriller that's more repugnant than scary.

Three teen girls — Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) — are kidnapped and locked in a basement cell by control-freak Dennis (James McAvoy). The girls then see Dennis put on a dress and become the matronly Patricia. Soon it's revealed that their kidnapper has multiple personalities: 23, according to his psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley). The nastier ones (Dennis, Patricia and 9-year-old boy Hedwig) warn the teens that a new personality is coming out of the horde, a supreme being called The Beast.

Shyamalan creates nail-biting tension and gives McAvoy room to create a vast array of interesting characters within a single body. But it's disgusting how Shyamalan treats the three young women as meat, literally and figuratively.

Then there's the Shyamalan "twist," which some will see as audacious and cool but I found a desperate Hail Mary throwback to his last really good movie.


Opening Friday, Jan. 20, in theaters everywhere; rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language; 117 minutes.