Review Round-Up: M. Night Shyamalan’s SPLIT

About a month ago, we brought you news of M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming thriller about dissociative identity disorder (DID), Split. We also brought you a heavy dose of skepticism surrounding his handling of mental illness.



Nicely rounded out by my skepticism about his self-indulgent cameos. (We know you made the movie, now shoo!)


Although it won’t open in wide release until January 2017, Split was recently given its world premier at Fantastic Fest 2016 in Austin. Reviewers have been quick to pounce on what many are calling Shyamalan’s long-awaited comeback, but Split gives many pause from a mental health perspective, as we discussed back in August. But are there instances where the sensationalism of a mental illness are excusable in the name of pure entertainment?


Let’s take a look at what the critics have to say about Split:


“Mental health advocates won’t be giving any awards to a film that plays up fears surrounding those with dissociative identity disorder (DID), more commonly known as split-personality disorder — at least no one refers to our troubled villain, energetically played by James McAvoy, as ‘schizophrenic,’ which is a different thing entirely. But genre fans should embrace what is arguably the director’s most satisfying picture since The Sixth Sense. … Some eyes may roll when this talk veers into science fiction, asking if DID sufferers have ‘unlocked the potential of the brain’ and are able to access supernatural abilities. The director’s fans probably don’t need a ‘spoiler alert’ before being told the answer is yes in this case, though one hopes the specifics, very exciting in at least one respect, won’t be ruined for future viewers.” — John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter


“The character suffers from such an acute form of dissociation that, so Fletcher argues to a conference of colleagues who just don’t get it, his mind changes his actual anatomy. Part of me would like to have that last bit vetted by psychiatrists and physicians, but not the part of me that enjoys Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Or Psycho, for that matter, which, late in the game, Split resembles when the screenplay decides to make some riskier moves.  …It nicely rides the line between exploitation and serious commentary about the strength gained from overcoming adversity.” — Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian


“The story hinges on Dr. Fletcher’s belief that in some DID patients, physical differences occur between identities — for example, a blind woman could have an identity who could see. ‘Split paints mental illness and child abuse as a potential source of power, possibly even supernatural power. It’s not difficult to see where that might pay off, particularly in a Shyamalan film.” — Jette Kernion, IndieWire



Split stars James McAvoy as Dennis, a man who kidnaps three teenage girls…for reasons we aren’t quite sure of. What we are sure of, though, is that Dennis isn’t this person’s real identity. He’s also Patricia, Hedwig, Barry, and 19 other identities, not including his real one, Kevin. Kevin has multiple personality disorder and, very quickly, the girls realize that not all the personalities are cool with what Dennis has done. This sets the stage for an absolute acting tour-de-force for McAvoy, who gets to play multiple sexualities, genders and ages in a single movie with only a few wardrobe changes. And he’s absolutely incredible in each role, completely believable and able to flip between the characters with a twist of his face or gleam in his eye. As they’re captured, the girls…try to pit the personalities against each other. When confused, Kevin goes to see Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), a woman who studies people with multiple personalities and think they could be a kind of higher being, an example of the true nature and potential of the brain. It’s a seemingly ancillary, but absolutely crucial throughline as the film moves on.” — Germain Lussier, Gizmodo


What do you think about what is shaping up to be a major hit for Shyamalan? Let us know in the comments!

You can learn more about Dissociative Identity Disorder here.

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