Split (2016): Psychological Thrillers are the New “Horror”

There is nothing quite as scary as an unhinged mind. A mind that is detached from reality is a frightening spectacle to witness. But a mind that is attached to different minds within that same mind is even more alarming. To observe a person who switches in-and-out of different personalities – without pretending I might add – is haunting. This is a sad and terrifying reality but it is also very perplexing and, I must admit, an exciting topic for discussion.

I have a great love for philosophy and have grown to have an outstanding passion for psychology. The notion that a person can lose not only touch with reality but who they are themselves is a fascinating issue.

Fascinating, but also extremely scary.

Now I keep making a distinction between detachment from reality and self because they are not the same thing. The former would be schizophrenia and the latter we will discuss shortly.

I would like to remark I find no joy from seeing people lose their mind – but I do ponder on the notion that reality may very well be a slippery slope that we all are on. The only difference between some of us is that some have learned to balance and others…others have fallen off of the slope and into madness.

I just saw the movie Split (directed by M. Night Shamalyan), and I have to say, that movie terrified me.

“Split” was such a brilliant movie because it dealt with a person who suffers from D.I.D (Dissociative Identity Disorder). D.I.D is a disorder of the mind – and we will get more into that later on, as it may be moot to call this disorder a “disorder.”

This neurological composition of certain individuals mind is used artistically well in this fictional medium. As a result, it gives this movie such a chilling, terrifying, and realistic aspect about it; which is what I found so scary and disturbing about this film.

See I believe that movies are canvases – and ideas are the gamut of paint. The actors are the brushes, and the director is the hand. When everything works in unison, a story – scary, romantic, funny, etc. – just works; it becomes a masterpiece.

There was one aspect of the movie, the ending, where I questioned the level of believability. However, upon doing some level of research, I didn’t find the twist to be too outside the realm of possibility. Personally, I didn’t consider it a twist.

For those who have not seen the movie, I will not spoil it for you, as you may have been like me – watching the movie late; and I would very much like not to ruin this film. But with that said, this film was indeed a superb movie, and I say this as no fulsome praise. The acting, the plot, the setting, the music, the visuals, were all haunting and stunning to look at at the same time.

Just to divert for a second, you don’t need to have CGI monsters to have a scary movie. Just leave a haunting thought in people’s minds, and that will keep them up at night.

Now, this article is not solely a movie review, as the movie has been out for a while. But rather, it is more an in-depth analysis of the psychological and neurological reality that the character in the film had and how that is very much a real-life disorder that affects some people.

Also, I want to inject a bit of philosophy into this article and I would like to leave you with this question.

Is the mind truly a fascinating object of reality or is reality a fascinating object of the mind?

A Grip on Reality

In the movie “Split” we are given a story about a man named Kevin (James McAvoy) who has 23 different personalities.

To pull away from the realm of fiction for just a second and enter into the realm of “our” reality; D.I.D is a real-life phenomenon that a minute amount of our population suffers from or have.  I say “have” because it is not as dangerous as the movie paints it out to be.

It is a defense mechanism that the mind creates to protect itself from a traumatic event that happened earlier on in someone’s life, especially during their childhood; a child’s mind is so creative.

In the movie, Kevin shows a variety of different characters, 23 to be precise. There was one particular character to whom I did like. His name was Hedwig. Hedwig was a 9-year-old boy who had the power to put all the other personalities in time out. He had what he called the power of the light, which allowed for him to put different personalities in control of Kevin’s body.

Now as I mentioned in my review of the latest Insidious film Insidious: The Last Key (directed by James Wan), what I find incredibly frustrating about the horror movies today comes in the form of how predictably lacking in originality they have become.

And although Split is by no means an entire horror movie, (as it could be categorized more as a psychological thriller than horror) I found Kevin’s many characters to be disturbingly terrifying.

Two other leading personalities were predominant in the movie, and they were Dennis and Patricia. Dennis was the guy who kidnaps the girls and Patricia was the one who was getting the girls ready for something called “The Beast.”

Dennis character was the big persona. He was the personality that was to be feared because of his presence alone. Patricia was equally terrifying as she seemed to be very sophisticated – but at the same time, she had an unwavering desire to unleash The Beast.

However, Hedwig’s character was the central personality that interacts with Casey (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), the heroine of the movie.


Hedwig’s character was so innocent but also very nefarious. There is no greater societal and relational harm than an innocent way of thinking. And Hedwig’s character was truly frightening because he had the power to unleash other nefarious personalities within him. In his mind, their mind, that world, Hedwig was being teased by the others. And being the young boy that he is – all he wanted was to be liked by others. So, being that innocent boy, he was willing to go through with the insane plan the horde concocted.

Innocence can be scary.

Again, this…this is brilliant writing.

What was very disturbing came in the form of why Kevin started to develop so many different personalities (as we learn during the end of the movie); it all adds to that level of believability.

As a lover of horror films, there is nothing scarier than to walk away from a movie thinking that what you just saw in this fictional world could happen in reality.

And Split does this with great effectiveness. This film was indeed a fresh of breath air because of its originality.

The brilliance and the horrifying aspect of this movie came primarily from how the original personality, Kevin, was for the most part put to sleep by the other personalities.

Imagine that for a second. How scary it can be to not be truly in control of who you are? How scary is it to lose so much time of your life? How scary is it to have your conscience so fragmented?

As someone who likes to fancy himself a philosopher, the notion that our consciousness can be so thoroughly fragmented is both horrifying and equally intriguing.

What does that say about our minds? Even more so what does that say about conscious? What is conscious? That is an age-old philosophical question that we still have no solid answer for.

Hedwig, along with the other 21 characters, (I am omitting Kevin, as he was the personality that the others were protecting) were waiting for another figure to arise.

This figure was called the Beast.

The Beast 

Now I don’t want to spoil too much for those who haven’t seen it, but the beast’s introduction, and furthermore his mission, was the most haunting aspect of the movie.

This cultish ritual he had was something that represents what a broken mind and a mind of regression are capable of. Furthermore, there was this insertion in the movie that the mind can alter the physiology of a person. There was one particular scene where The Beast did something which felt more like a comic book than reality.

And this may not be the best argument, but I do believe the mind can alter our physical state. Placebos have been an excellent rebuttal to those who claim that the mind cannot change our physiology.

But to veer back on to the article and issue, The Beasts’ concept I did enjoy as there does lie in all of us trace hints of our primitive animal ancestors.

Psychological Thrillers are the New Horror

I am a firm believer that many horror films today are those that delve into the category of psychological thrillers. Not to go on a diatribe but many horrors movies are aimed towards teens, young adults, and those who just simply want to be entertained. So I will not bash the level of writing or the underlying themes; or lack thereof.

But when I compare a movie like this with a horror film like Sinister 2, the goddamn awful Annabelle or the equally horrible torture porn bullshit films that are the Saw films (don’t get me wrong the first saw was good) – this movie is in a league of its own.

Kevin’s characters were horrifying because it played on our psychological fears. As individuals we like familiarity. We are hardwired to see reality a certain way. This is how our evolution has protected us from the world.

Witnessing a person so detached from, what we perceive to be, reality is one of the most haunting things we can observe because it shows how thin, how weak, and how easy it is to lose our sense of reality.

And when I say reality, I mean cultural norms.

And just to inject this into the article as I would be remiss to ignore this fact, many people with D.I.D live perfectly happy and healthy lives. D.I.D is a coping mechanism and this is something that needs to be known. The personalities are there to protect the original, which is a somewhat beautiful aspect of this disorder – if we can even call it a disorder.

GODDAMN – I love psychology. 

Psychological thrillers are just as scary as any horror movies out there because what we observe in those films could happen in reality.

And when you analyze the main character and understand why he started to develop different personalities – it is a saddening realization that somewhere, someone is undergoing that same life that Kevin lived.

That is terrifying on so many levels.

And even more terrifying comes from the idea that that person becomes a victim and a prisoner to their self… to themselves.

What do you do when the enemy that you are fighting is yourself? What do you do when the world that resides in your mind is against you? What do you do when you have a horde of characters that all fight against your dominant self?

When the world is against you, it can be a lonely place to live. But when “you” are against “you” it can be a paradoxically lonely and reasonably scary existence.

Split is by far one of the best horror films of late to be released, proving a horrifying thought is much more terrifying then CGI bullshit.

If you have not had the privilege to watch this outstandingly amazing movie then you really are missing out on a terrifyingly brilliant movie.

Really – give this movie a look if you haven’t yet.

One Last Thing

Was not the scene with the horde all fighting to take dominance such a BRILLIANT performance. Damn.

DAMN. Give that man an award.

That was such a powerful performance. I swear that was my favorite part of the movie.


Alright, I’m Out.



Trel Spiegel is a lover of psychology and horror. Specifically, when it delves into the realm of psychology, neuropsychology, which most fascinates me. What is it about the chemical make up of individuals that makes one person altruistic and wants to help others and in someone else that makes it want to do the complete opposite? If ever there were monsters it is those who have no control of their minds.

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