After what seems like years, director M. Night Shyamalan has finally released a chilling psychological thriller that dictates this new release as his comeback to horror.
The film “Split” centers around a man named Kevin who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) and lives with 23 different personalities within him.
Professor of psychology Ralph Nuzzo states that dissociative identity disorder is extremely uncommon.
“The existence of two or more distinct personalities in the same individual… usually as a result of some long-term and ongoing trauma or abuse during childhood. Statistically, it is a very rare mental disorder.”
This is true of Kevin in “Split.” In the film, one of his personalities kidnaps three teenage girls and holds them captive to save for another, more sinister personality within Kevin called “The Beast.”
The film switches between the grungy and dimly lit holding cell where the girls are kept, to the bright office of Kevin’s psychiatrist, where details about how Kevin developed his disorder begin to surface. In this setting, details about what Kevin is becoming creep toward the light.
The film doesn’t just reveal traumatizing memories from Kevin’s past but also the memories of Casey, one of the kidnapped girls whose furtive and reclusive nature set her apart as a noteworthy character.
By withholding crucial character development information, the viewer craves to know more as the plot thickens and information needs to be pieced together. When all the pieces fit just right, well, there comes that good old Shyamalan twist every audience member can’t wait for.
Horror movies are not necessarily my favorite, and supernatural terrors always make me keep a night light on, but as soon as a horror movie with a realistic and even domestic plot makes its way onto the big screen, I’m all in. I love psychological thrillers because they can chill your bones without the often tacky or overdone implication of demons or aliens.
The fact that most scenarios depicted in psychological thrillers could actually take place in real life is a bizarre but amazing concept to witness.
This movie captured frightening moments that were so life-like my mother had to hold my hand for fear it would happen to me right in the movie theater parking lot.
The array of personalities portrayed by James McAvoy were beautifully acted out and showed his true range of acting capabilities. The characters not only added to the element of fear and creepiness but were integral in establishing comic relief throughout the film. The mystery of Casey’s character also assisted in giving the audience a break from the darkness while still maintaining interest in her storyline. And of course, Shyamalan made a great guest appearance as well.
However, despite being a box office hit, the film has received backlash for using a mental disorder to facilitate a horrific plot.
Shyamalan has seemed to have lost Kevin’s humanity while his personalities ravage over control of his body, and Shyamalan has gone so far as to dub Kevin the “Horde” when referring to all his personalities.
By hiding Kevin’s real personality and using animalistic references, Shyamalan has stripped the audience of generating compassion or sympathy for Kevin and his identities. As the reveal of “The Beast” draws near, the audience only worries for the girls and fails to think of the tortured human suffocated by the identities of his disorder.
But with any film, portraying a severe mental illness comes with great room for error and offense. One wouldn’t think that using a horror movie as a platform to raise awareness for mental illness would be logical, and one would be correct. But Shyamalan was able to portray the illness with a sense of appreciation and wonder through the character of Kevin’s psychiatrist.
Through all the scary moments with Kevin, his psychiatrist advocates for his illness and tries to prove to her colleagues and even to the audience that his disorder is something to be marveled at and that he could potentially have the power to evolve into something much bigger than average humans due to the activity in his brain.
I left the theater, not with a fear of dissociative identity disorder, but with a fascination and respect for the illness because of how complex and mysterious it is. The film even placed patients with multiple personality as almost superior to humans without the disease, which eradicated any possible offense in my opinion.
I felt that Shyamalan navigated through this sensitive plot with grace, but I don’t think this type of thriller should inspire movies to choose mental illnesses as a new genre trend.