Film Review: Split by M. Night Shyamalan

Split (2016) by M. Night Shyamalan is a psychological thriller/ horror film exploring themes associated with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) underpinned by ideas about abuse and the consequential emotional trauma. My initial expectations of this film were that it would unrealistically represent DID, be overwhelmingly scary, and be filled with ‘triggers’ (images that cause a person to have a negative mental reaction). However, I found this film to be enjoyable.

The film managed to successfully ‘show, not tell’ the psychology behind DID through Dr. Fletcher, who was the antagonist Kevin’s psychologist. This added to the film’s representation of DID as it depicted the disorder for what it is rather than allowing the audience to perceive Kevin merely as a ‘crazy psychopath’, which he was not. As Dr. Fletcher herself says, Kevin is more than an ordinary person because of the trauma he has survived in which his personalities each individually represent the malleability of the human psyche as a mechanism for coping with such. While I thought the film portrayed DID well (albeit exaggerating certain personas to be dramatic rather than realistic), I wish the film could have shown more of Kevin’s personalities than the six main ones (since he was described as having twenty-four personalities).

While the portrayal of someone with DID as a kidnapper is perhaps not a realistic generalised portrayal of someone with the disorder, it did make for good story. Likewise, the iconography of ‘The Beast’, while grossly exaggerating the capability of a DID personality, was an icon of horror for the characters within the film, including most of Kevin’s personalities, which stirred up audience anticipation as it built curiosity over what exactly ‘The Beast’ was.

As someone who does not handle horror well, I found the story bearable, only once being startled. Furthermore, despite the content of the film, I did not find it to have many triggering events. I myself only felt triggered once in the film, during a flashback, in which Kevin’s mum calls him by his full name “Kevin Wendell Crumb” as he is hiding from her under the bed and she is about to punish him for making a mess. Although, other scenes may trigger anyone who has been sexually assaulted. While I think this film exceeded my expectations in its approach to exploring concepts of abuse, I do not recommend the film to someone who does not handle grotesque images or who is easily triggered.

Overal impression

I loved this film. I would rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

The film was intelligently written and designed. The psychology behind Kevin and his personalities was well researched and applied and the flashbacks explaining the protagonist Casey’s backstory were brilliant and left me emotionally unhinged (in a good way).

What I disliked

The characterisation of two of the kidnapped girls, Claire and Marcia, made them feel like extras to the story. They seemed more vulnerable and incapable than they should have been. This felt like an attempt to contrast them with Casey and show how Casey was more intelligent and able to cope with the situation. Nonetheless, Claire and Marcia’s characterisation gave off a superficial feel to the characters which took away from the empathy one might feel for them in their situation.

N.B: This film is the second in a trilogy; the first film in the trilogy is Unbreakable (2000), also by Shyamalan. (I have not seen the first film and it is not necessary to view before viewing Split. Split closes on a cameo to a “Mr. Glass” in reference to Unbreakable).


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