Maria Lubanovic, Staff Writer
Time for a soapbox moment. People with mental illnesses already have to deal with all sorts of unfounded stigma against their disabilities and illnesses, and having someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) play a villain is certainly not helping. This film is not an accurate portrayal of how this disorder works, and applying fear to it is not beneficial to the many people who live their lives with a mental disorder. For more information, go here.
Split, the newest psychological thriller written and produced by M. Night Shyamalan, focuses on Kevin, a person with 23 distinct personalities. The first 20 of his personalities are benign, but the last three convince him to kidnap three teenage girls so that when his 24th personality appears, he can eat them.
The plot is creepy, and James McAvoy portrays Kevin in a way that is unsympathetic and cold. Even his portrayal of a 9-year-old boy is strange; not all of his actions correspond to the way his character would be thinking. He doesn’t demand the understanding that other characters with mental illness do. His motivation is not all that clear until the crazy twist ending of the movie.
The other characters are not all that compelling. The most competent teenage girl he kidnaps has an unnecessary backstory, but is otherwise very smart and more understanding of the overall situation, and tricks Kevin into helping her, even though it is Kevin who has taken her. Kevin’s therapist also plays an important part, to show her views of the situation and basically allows the end of the movie to happen. She also tends to humanize Kevin more than Kevin himself does.
The soundtrack is frightening. It determines, sometimes more than the action does, when something horrible is about to happen. Like any good horror film, the low tones always show impending doom, and silence is almost worse than actual music. The film angles are tight, and the lighting helps to contribute to the overall eerie feel of the film. One of the biggest strengths is the way that the movie forces you to focus on who is doing certain actions rather than focusing on anything in the background. This is especially evident in the therapist’s office, which has starkly brighter lighting and sharpness.
In essence, it’s creepy, and exactly the sort of movie that M. Night Shyamalan became famous for. It’s worth a watch if you have a tolerance for incorrectly portrayed mental illnesses and can look past the subpar character writing.