When M. Night Shyamalan announced ‘Split’ (2016) in 2015, that is after ‘After Earth’ (2013) which had essentially completely tarnished his reputation, it seemed as though it would be another pretentious Shyamalan project of a “comeback film”. However, with ‘Split’, M. Night Shyamalan proved cinematic brilliance yet again. With ‘Glass’, he furthered his reputation of making unique films.
Another deft amalgamation of psychology and horror, ‘Split’ stars James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder who has 23 different personalities. One of his personalities, “Dennis” kidnaps Casey Cooke, essayed by Anya Taylor-Joy. Things go bad to worse as Crumb’s 24th personality is about to activate which is “The Beast”. To begin with, the film itself starts with a classic Shyamalan absurdity as it is a standalone sequel to ‘Unbreakable’ (2000). The film is teeming with thrilling elements which are the result of a sold script by the filmmaker. The film’s financial and critical success has now successfully spawned a sequel titled ‘Glass’ and essentially gifts us with a potentially definitive trilogy.
‘Split’ isn’t just a Shyamalan comeback film. It is a fresh wave of psychological horror films. A nod to the classic horror films which often took inspiration from the psychiatric and mental disorders such as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), Schizophrenia and Split Personality. The film’s success lies in its ability to captivate the imagination with horror, drama and thrill.
For this list, I have taken into account movies which have similar psychological, horror and dramatic undertones as ‘Split’. This list is not bound by a particular genre. Honourable mentions – ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ (2003), ‘Kisapmata’ (1981) and ‘Insomnia’ (2002) – these films are certainly great films, but the ones on this list are a must watch for all cinema lovers. So, without further ado, here is the list of movies similar to Split that are our recommendations. You can watch several of these movies like Split on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
12. The Skin I Live In (2011)
‘The Skin I Live In’, directed by Pedro Almodóvar, is the story of a brilliant plastic surgeon, who troubled by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that resists any kind of damage. However, his experimental enigma turns into horror when it transforms into an obsession, with a volatile woman being the guinea pig to his obsession. Based on thriller crime novel ‘Tarantula’ by Thierry Jonque, published in 1984, the film builds upon a biologically horrifying drama which causes immense discomfort and squeamishness. With a charismatically troubling performance by Antonio Banderas and an intrinsically created disturbing cinematography by José Luis Alcaine, the film is a brilliant look into the human psyches destructive powers when poked with phenomena of depressive distress.
Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, the film is unsettling quiet and does not contain a superfluous flow of screams and noise. The direction was lauded for it deft and intricate portrayal of the psychological phenomena, and Banderas shrewdly captured the essence of his enigmatic character Dr Robert Ledgard. Although the actor did not win much silverware, he essentially established his career in the new age of cinema.
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11. The Machinist (2004)
While ‘The Machinist’ turned Christian Bale into a household name for being a chameleonic actor who can change his physicality with an unsettling ease, it seems as though the film’s ability to mystify the audience with its psychological manipulation. Directed by Brad Anderson, ‘The Machinist’ follows the disturbing life of Trevor Reznik, essayed by Bale, a machinist whose insomnia and psychological problems lead to a serious workplace accident involving a co-worker. After Reznik is fired, he goes into a downward spiral of paranoia and delusion.
With the film’s unabashed take on the absurd reality in which we live in, ‘The Machinist’ is certainly a film to be experienced. The 2004 psychological thriller is built upon the cumulative efforts of director Brad Anderson who directs an unnerving tale, writer Scott Kosar who builds a solid framework with a resonating screenplay, actor Bale who brings in a discomforting and physically demanding performance as Trevor Reznik, cinematographer Xavi Giménez who creates an atmosphere of melancholy and gloom and composer Roque Baños who ultimately form the peripheral structure to complement every element of the film.
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10. Donnie Darko (2001)
A movie which still has the ability to reinvent itself with its innovative directorial style, ‘Donnie Darko’, directed by Richard Kelly, is about the titular character’s troubled visions of a man in a large rabbit suit who manipulates him to commit a series of crimes. The film applies disturbing imagery and takes inspiration from veteran director David Lynch’s cinematography techniques. The film draws the scares upon the narrative techniques, crafted by the director himself. Scrutinizing the character’s tortured and anguished soul and mind, the film acts like a maze where one tends to misinterpret reality with illusion.
The chain of events created by Donnie’s crime almost acts as a representation of his mind. With a disturbing background score by Michael Andrews and a depressive and haunting cinematography by Steven B. Poster, the film holds its engaging capabilities in its gloomy aura. ‘Donnie Darko’, since its release, has gained a cult following both critically and commercially. Among its gallon of awards, Richard Kelly won the “Best Screenplay” at the San Diego Film Critics Society and the “Grand Jury Prize” at the Sundance Film Festival, to name a few.
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9. Black Swan (2010)
Darren Aronofsky is the modern ambassador of analytically drawing the most depressing and disturbing analogies with a frightening perfection. Starring an ensemble cast of Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder, ‘Black Swan’ chronicles the story of a committed dancer who wins the lead role in a production of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”. However, all merriness turns into sour hell when she starts to struggle to maintain her sanity whilst engaging in an unhealthy obsession in understanding her role.
The movie finds itself in the core of human psychology and the minds’ fixation of obtaining perfection. Premiering at the Venice International Film Festival, ‘Black Swan’ glacially seeped in the unripe veins of the audience to transform into one of 2010’s best films. The film completely rests upon a historic performance by both Natalie Portman and Barbara Hershey, for which the former won the “Best Actress” awards at the Academy Awards.
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8. Seven (1995)
There are few films which manage to garner critical praise for its atmospheric darkness, and ‘Seven’ or ‘Se7ev’ garnered immense praise for its seamless incorporation of darkness and brutality. What makes this 1995 David Fincher film such a menacing watch is its dark undertones. Employing Christian and religious themes, the movie traces the two detectives, a rookie and a veteran, who in the pursuit of catching a serial killer come across the killer’s shrewd and depressing references of the seven deadly sins.
Establishing a film in bold narrative techniques, ‘Seven’ is a masterful merger of the detectives’ thriller hunt for the killer, and the horrifying undertones of religious dogmas. Unlike other films on this list, ‘Seven’ carefully separated the horror and thriller without alienating them from each other. Film critic Roger Ebert famously said, “None of Fincher’s films is darker than this one.” And he couldn’t be more right, with Fincher bringing a cat and mouse chase to an extremely unnerving dark ending, the flick is bound to send shivers down the spine.
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7. American Psycho (2000)
A film often misinterpreted for its eye-boggling violence, sexual themes and disturbing sequences; ‘American Psycho’ employs a variety of allusions, themes and motifs to sketch out the story of Patrick Bateman – a wealthy New York investment banking executive, who has an alternate dark side hidden from all – a side indulging in murder, torture and hedonistic fantasies. The Bret Easton Ellis novel adapted flick stars Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe and Jared Leto as the primary lead, with several other actors acting as the supporting cast. ‘American Psycho’ unequally bases itself in the horror genre, with its grotesqueness causing a stir among many. Director Mary Harron and writer Guinevere Turner collaborated to iterate the dark comedy through the film’s primary character, Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman.
The film uses the Bateman and his experiences to showcase the director’s ideas. Bateman is a narcissist, who can go to extreme lengths in order to achieve his aim. He displays his talents as a banker by the day and turns into pleasure-seeking monster by night. The character humours himself with materialism, purchasing the finest cloth and dining in the classiest restaurants. Patrick Bateman takes innate care of his skin, hair and body, applying body products and exercising daily. However, the man is unreliable, who lives off the violent death of other people. He tortures women, sexually assaults them and doesn’t blink an eye before chopping a man’s head off. Bale’s character is a dexterous compulsive liar. Debuting in the Sundance Film Festival, the film received polarising reviews due to its unabashed violence. However, Bale earned immense accolade for his twisted portrayal, making the role his career’s turning point. Critics praised the adaptation, commenting the film’s maturity in not sensitizing the plot.
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6. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Adapted from Ira Levin’s novel of the same name, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ is the story of a pregnant woman, who upon mysteriously giving birth suspects that an evil cult wants to take her baby for practice in their rituals. Directed by the now – besieged Roman Polanski, the film is brimming with a certain melancholic tone. A classic, the film permeated the cultural beliefs of women due to its subject matter.
With an impressive team of performances, starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Angela Dorian and Clay Tanner; this 1968 flick is a terrifying psychological allegory. With cinematographer William A. Fraker and composer Krzysztof Komeda, Polanski created a chilling and gloomy atmosphere in the glossy streets of Bramford with froze the bones of audiences and critics alike. Another example of a vibrant narrative, the screenplay is entirely based on the book, which makes it so visually explanatory. An instant classic at the time of its release, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ won Ruth Gordon an “Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress”, “Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture” and was placed ninth on American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Thrills”.
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5. Fight Club (1999)
The second David Fincher directed film, ‘Fight Club’ is not just a film but a cultural phenomenon. ‘Fight Club’ stars Starring Edward Norton as the narrator, who is an insomniac office worker looking for a way to change his life. His life seems to take a complete turn when he crosses paths with soap maker Tyler Durden, essayed by Brad Pitt, a man whose belief in living vicariously impresses the mellow narrator. With their peculiar friendship, they form an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more, causing the narrator to question his own sanity.
The film is quite different from others on this list, as ‘Fight Club’ steers away from the clichéd portrayal of a depressive mind as a teary-eyed melodrama or a gut-pulling horror. Instead, Fincher creates something more – ‘Fight Club’ is disgusting yet mystifying, it is uncomfortable yet absolutely cool. With the Fincher’s innovative filmmaking style and a cohesive adaptation by screenwriter Jim Uhls, the film, as many would know, has turned out to be a cult classic. With a poor contemporary critical reception and absence of awards; the very fact that ‘Fight Club’ was a commercial and critical failure, makes it an even more celebrated and an important watch.
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4. The Shining (1980)
Although ‘The Shining’ has developed an appreciation among critics over time, it has still not acquired the praise it deserves. A film crafted to be commercially feasible and artistically articulate, ‘The Shining’ is the story of the Torrance family who in an endeavour to have a fun holiday check in a hotel. However, things now go for a haywire when an evil entity engulfs the father, Jack Torrance, essayed by Jack Nicholson, and the son start to see horrific premonitions from the past and of the future. Adapting the story from a Stephen King book, the film creates an aura of complete helplessness, nudging the innate fear of all.
Veteran director Stanley Kubrick intricately blurred the lines between the horror and thriller genres. While the suspenseful outcomes created a thrilling experience, the pure berserk phenomena of the human mind created the extreme chilling fear. This 1980 flick was initially miles away from critical praise though, with it winning the “Razzie Awards” for Stanley Kubrick’s direction and Shelley Duvall’s acting. However, through detailed research and analysis, critics have found an intricate framework of allusions, references, motifs and symbolism, and have since been recognised as one of the greatest horror films of all time.
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3. Get Out (2017)
While the world sang hurrah to Andy Muschietti ‘It’, this Jordan Peele directed horror flick quietly established itself as one of the most thought-provoking horror flicks. ‘Get Out’ is not only one of the best horror films of 2017, but it is also one of the best horror films to be ever made.
Playing on the themes of colour and creed discrimination, ‘Get Out’ is a cerebrally crafted horror flick about a young African American man, Chris Washington essayed by Daniel Kaluuya, who has come to visit with his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend. However, in their secluded estate in the woods, the apparently friendly and polite ambience turns into a spine-chilling experience for Chris Washington. The film is unsettlingly well-directed where aspects of life which seemingly aren’t terrorizing are presented in spine-chilling suspense and revulsion. With a racial undertone, ‘Get Out’ breaks the stereotypical clutches of grotesque horror and torture porn, and present one of the scariest films ever to be directed.
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2. Psycho (1960)
Set on the similar lines of ‘Split’, this 1960 slasher flick too explores the identities created by a disturbed mind. When this movie released in the theatres, critics and audience were shocked by the film’s inventive concept, music and cinematography. Setting a new tone for violence, reclusive behaviour and sexuality in American films, ‘Psycho’ is the story about Marion Crane, a real estate secretary, who upon absconding from her boss after embezzling money, comes across a remote motel run by a cloistered young man. Things seem fine until the man’s obsessive mother turns up to ruin her life.
While the film was shot in low budget, the resulting atmosphere worked wonders for Hitchcock’s sensational slasher flick. With a cunningly chilling performance by Anthony Perkins who brought out an unsettling nuance to motel owner Norman Bates, the film comfortably established its primary objective on the shoulders of the newbie. The veteran director sets the primary theme of the film, horror and carefully knits the plot through a gradual suspenseful detour. The film successfully set Alfred Hitchcock as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and has since been one of the most endeared movies despite the quite controversial concept material.
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1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
When Anthony Hopkins described his favourite dish of eating a man’s “liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”, the world gasped in horror. ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ enmeshed a gripping thriller with gut-pulling horror – a thematic representation unmatched and unparalleled. Directed by Jonathan Demme, the film traces the story of a young F.B.I. cadet, Clarice Starling, who is obligated to receive the help of a blemished and precariously manipulative cannibal killer, Dr Hannibal Lector, to catch a serial killer, Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb, a madman who skins his victims as his trophy. The film powerfully costumed the foundation on a gripping screenplay, adapted by Ted Tally from Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name.
The movie is arguably one of the most terrifying thriller set pieces, with the candle burning on both sides – the manipulative Hannibal the Cannibal and the satanic Buffalo Bill; and stirred the plot with Clarice Starling’s pursuit of catching the killer. What makes ‘Silence of the Lambs’ such an eventful landmark of cinema is its dexterity of juggling multiple themes and concepts while scrutinizing the plot with the perfect measure. The crew’s efforts earned the film quite a many achievements. Among its barrel of awards and critical success, the flick became the first and only horror film to win the “Best Picture” Oscar and was the third to win awards in all the top five categories – Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Adapted Screenplay.
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