- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Here’s a look at a pair of smart horror films recently released to Blu-ray.

Split(Universal Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 117 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $34.98) — M. Night Shyamalan’s creative renaissance continues through his latest psychological horror thriller now available on home theater screens.

The scary story by this director and writer takes viewers into the crowded world of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder and wrestling with 23 personalities.

While working with psychologist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) to control his rapidly deteriorating mental condition, he kidnaps three teenagers and locks them in a compound as his alter egos prepare for the arrival of “the beast.”

Mr. McAvoy delivers a perfect, complex performance, able to craft a collection of nuances to each of Mr. Crumb’s personalities, which include a 9-year-old boy; a proper adult woman; an angry, obsessive-compulsive pervert; and a male fashion designer, to name a few.

The distinguished Miss Buckley also shines as her character slowly unravels the horrifying truth about the potential of Kevin’s 24th personality.

“Split” embraces Mr. Shyamalan’s ability to deliver the most terrors out of his small-budgeted efforts (remember “The Visit”) while conjuring up claustrophobic memories of such films as “Room” and “10 Cloverfield Lane.”

Best of all, fans of his early work will not only love the twists, but they will be thrilled by its end and a surprising guest star.

Although the digital transfer offers plenty of visual pop, the DTS audio sound mix overwhelms with bass-rumbling dread, swelling at moments of danger and impending suspense.

Best extras: Viewers get over 15 minutes of deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, with each segment introduced by Mr. Shyamalan.

I was great to hear the filmmaker lament cutting some of the scenes, explaining their context to the overall story and his rationalizations as to why they were dropped. By the way, the alternate ending is more of an extra, unnecessary snippet that was to further flesh out a character called the Horde.

Additionally, a pair of featurettes (roughly 15 minutes total) covers the production and Mr. McAvoy’s fantastic performance.

If viewers can filter out the gushing from cast and crew, they will appreciate the interview segments with Mr. Shyamalan discussing his career and explaining why he hired the cinematographer from the horror film “It Follows,” Mike Gioulakis.

The Girl with All the Gifts  (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, rated R, 111 minutes, 2.00:1 aspect ratio, $16.96) — A fungal infection turned most of the world’s population into rabid, fast-moving, flesh eating ghouls in a movie from earlier this year that is now on Blu-ray and offered a frenetic yet fresh take to the “28 Days Later” genre of post-apocalyptic zombie cinema.

In the story from director Colm McCarthy and writer M.R. Carey, “hungries” are everywhere and after they overwhelm a military installation, a group of two soldiers, a researcher and teacher escape with one of the remaining children Melanie (Sennie Nanua) who could be the key to humanity’s survival.

Glenn Close costars and delivers the drama as the unapologetic researcher Dr. Caroline Caldwell, experimenting on hybrid children exposed to the disease who are still rationale (as long as not smelling flesh).

The smart and emotional film reminded me of the video game masterpiece “The Last of Us” and early episodes of “The Walking Dead.”

It’s worth noting, a habit of many a zombie film, that only occasionally were the survivors idiots. Take the case of Dr. Caldwell stupidly engaging with an infected mother pushing a stroller with her offspring in the midst of a mass of unawoken hungries, and a soldier going out on a supply run alone and leaving his radio out of his range.

Plenty of shaky camera and in-your-face attacks will keep views on the edge of their seats. Especially, when combined with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix that makes every door slam and gunshot sound like a sonic boom.

Of course, the digital transfer brings the horror and gore to shocking realism, and is not for the squeamish.

Best extra: A 21-minute overview of the production, spearheaded by Mr. McCarthy and Mike Carey, briefly looks at the origins of the film, the story and the real fungus that could potentially cause the end of humanity. Supplemental interviews by the lead cast turns the piece into more promotional gush than I would have liked, and I would have loved more information on the story and less back patting. 

I certainly would have preferred an optional commentary track with the creators to further explain the complex post-apocalyptic themes of this very intense and enjoyable film.

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