Of mystical beings and surprise endings

It was a squeaker, but Universal’s “Split” has edged past Paramount’s “Rings” to narrowly claim victory at the box office. The low-budget thriller retained its first place position for the third consecutive weekend, earning $14.6 million.
So far, “Split,” the story of a man with multiple personalities, has made $98.7 million stateside, while costing just $9 million, making it very profitable indeed. The film stars James McAvoy, was directed by “The Sixth Sense’s” M Night Shyamalan, and produced by Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions, the maker of “Sinister” and “Paranormal Activity.”
“It’s a darn good movie,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s domestic distribution chief. “It’s very satisfying for audiences. People seek out quality.”
As the title suggests, the film centres around James McAvoy as a young man, Kevin, with Dissociative Identity Disorder, or as it was referred to in crasser times, a split identity — 23 identities, to be exact. But as we learn over the course of the film, there is a 24th identity that threatens to emerge.
McAvoy acts the hell out of 23 roles in Split, the story of Kevin, a psychiatric patient afflicted with dissociative identity disorder (DID). Actually, the actor introduces us to only a handful of these personalities. Too many “alters,” as they’re called, might spoil the brew cooked up by writer-director M Night Shyamalan in one of his best psychological thrillers.
In trying to repeat the success of his landmark 1999 scarefest The Sixth Sense, the director has backed himself into a lot of corners involving the mystical beings and surprise endings.
“Rings,” an attempt to revive a long-dormant horror franchise, earned $13 million. The first “Ring” movie opened to $15 million in 2002 on its way to a $129.1 million domestic gross, while its follow-up, 2005’s “The Ring Two,” kicked off to $35.1 million, ending its stateside run with $76.2 million.
“Rings” was delayed multiple times, and was originally intended to hit theatres in 2015. It cost $25 million to produce and, like its predecessors, focuses on a videotape that kills those who watch it. Overseas, “Rings” took in $15.2 million from 35 international markets, including Brazil, Mexico and Russia. Paramount marketing and distribution chief Megan Colligan said she was pleased by the reception the film received here and abroad.
“It’s solid,” she said. “Internationally we did incredibly well and it’s nice to have over-performed in certain markets like Brazil.” As for whether or not “Rings” will lead to more sequels, Colligan offered, “time will tell.”
Paramount has gone through a bruising period at the box office, enduring a stream of painful flops such as “Allied,” “Ben-Hur’’ and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’’.
“The studio has scored with the Oscar-nominated “Fences” and “Arrival,” but is trying to exhibit greater consistency on the big screen. That’s seen as critical for the long-term survival of studio chief Brad Grey.
“La La Land,” the musical expected to dominate this year’s Academy Awards, rounded out the top five, adding $7.4 million to push its domestic results to more than $118 million. The film picked up another honour this weekend, as Damien Chazelle, the 32-year-old wunderkind who wrote and directed “La La Land,” won the Director’s Guild Award.
In limited release, “The Comedian,” a critically maligned dramedy with Robert De Niro, struggled to make much of an impression, grossing $1.1 million on 848 screens. Sony Pictures Classics is distributing the film.
Magnolia’s “I Am Not Your Negro” fared better, grossing $709,500 on 43 screens. The look at essayist and novelist James Baldwin is competing for an Oscar in the best documentary category.