I am a serious fan of the psychological horror. You can keep your ghosts, demons, possessions and hauntings, but send me any and every clever thriller. So when I first saw the trailer of Split it was quickly bookmarked as one of the films I was most looking forward to in
For such a rare illness, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is an exceptionally popular tool in film and TV. More commonly known as multiple, or split personality disorder, this dark, ‘other’ self has been used time and time again as the twist in a number of films including Psycho, Fight Club, Secret Window and Dressed to Kill. Where Split manages to be different is that it makes no secret of Kevin’s illness – it’s not a plot tool, it is the plot. By removing the pressure of the secret, Split opens the door for a truly astounding performance by James McAvoy exploring the 23, very different personalities.
Split follows the fate of three young girls kidnapped by McAvoy’s character, Kevin. Kevin has suffered from DID for most of his life, and divides his time between 23 ‘alters’. The main personalities we meet are the ‘undesirables’ responsible for the kidnapping – ‘Dennis’, a severe OCD sufferer with a penchant for young girls and ‘Patricia’, a terrifying British governess along with ‘Hedwig’ the 9 year old Kanye West fan and ‘Barry’ a laid back clothes designer. To add to the mystery, the different ‘alters’ are adept in impersonating each other. Costume and accents play a role in this transition, but aren’t relied on. In fact the more subtle changes like expression, pace of speech and mannerisms are most impressive, as you first praise your perceptive self for knowing which it was, before realising actually, James McAvoy is a simply superb actor. One particular scene stands out where an ‘alter’ is caught impersonating another personality and the subtle changes in his eyebrows let you pinpoint the exact moment the impersonation stops – he’s that good.
The film does not seek to be a realistic account of DID sufferers, and in fact throws in a vaguely supernatural element to the plot – it is a thriller after all. The cat-and-mouse style chase between Kevin and kidnap-ee Casey makes for tense and enthralling viewing, using Kevin’s psychiatrist (Betty Buckley) to explain some of the more technical but necessary details of the illness. The ending even manages to throw in some relief in a bittersweet kind of way.
M. Night Shyamalan has what could be considered a bit of a cult following: since The Sixth Sense and that twist hit our screens, Shyamalan’s name has become a warning to expect the unexpected. Part of the charm of Split is that Shyamalan doesn’t seem to be resting on the expected shock value to make a truly captivating film that manages to be not only frightening, tense and everything you would expect in a thriller, but also genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny and touching in parts (don’t tell anyone but I actually had a little tear in my eye at a particularly emotional moment!).
As a really good film, the kind that you tell you friends about and will put on to impress people with how fab your taste in serious films are, Split is right up there, ticking all the boxes!
Have you seen Split? What were your thoughts? Leave us a comment with what you did/didn’t like about it!