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R13: Violence, horror and content that may disturb

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this movie.

Split movie poster

Date registered: 13/01/2017

Why this film was classified

Split was classified M in Australia and so was cross-rated M in New Zealand also. However, Split received a PG-13 rating in the United States (with advisory notes for disturbing thematic content and behaviour, violence and some language) and a restricted 15 classification in the UK. There were concerns that the level of violence may have been stronger than the M cross-rating suggests.

Although this film was correctly cross-rated by the New Zealand Film and Video Labelling Body, the Classification Office has recently examined and reclassified several films rated as unrestricted M by the Australian Classification Board. New Zealand rating and classification law is different from Australia, and the cultural norms and level of tolerance for violence is different between the two countries.

Following examination by the Classification Office, the original rating was changed to R13 'Violence, horror and content that may disturb'.

A still image from the film - a terrified girl running along a dark narrow basement corridor

About the film

Split is a 2016 American psychological horror film that follows Kevin, who suffers from an incredibly elaborate case of dissociative identity disorder. He has 23 different personalities and kidnaps three teenage girls, keeping them in an underground bunker in an undetermined location.

A still image from the film - Kevin with the girls he's kidnapped

Classification criteria: Sex

There is an underlying threat of sexual violence. Dennis, one of Kevin's personalities, kidnaps the girls in a vehicle, using a spray that causes them to lose consciousness. When they awake, they find themselves locked in the bunker. Dennis enters the room and carries one of the girls, Marcia, out of the room. The other two girls attack him in an attempt to help her. Marcia defends herself successfully to the point where Dennis throws the door open, slaps her across the face and puts her back in the room. She whispers "he wanted me to dance". Later, Kevin's psychologist, Dr Fletcher, mentions that Dennis has the fetish of watching young girls dance naked.

One of the girls is also revealed to have been sexually abused in the past. The events that lead up to the abuse are shown through flashbacks but the abuse itself is never shown on screen.

A still image from the film - two of the kidnapped girls

Classification criteria: Horror

The film is a psychological horror. It contains elements that are typical of this genre: a dingy aesthetic, a foreboding soundtrack, an evil mastermind who terrifies and toys with their victims, and a sense of helplessness. Their situation has been designed to be as isolating and as frightening as possible - they wake up in a sealed room, and face immediate threat from their captor, who is not clear about what his purpose is other than confusing references to them being "eaten".

A still image from the film - looking up at Kevin as he delivers a tray of food

Classification criteria: Violence and cruelty

At one point Dennis visits the train station to meet The Beast, one of Kevin's most dominant personalities. The Beast materialises with animalistic grunts, growls and physical strength. He returns to the basement and approaches Dr Fletcher, who has gone there to investigate. She is unsteady and unable to see clearly. She grabs a small knife to defend herself, but when she tries to stab him, the blade snaps on his skin. He wraps his arms around her and uses his brute strength to asphyxiate and crush her. Her ribs can be heard breaking with an audible crack.

Later, a girl's body is shown covered in blood; her torso appears as though it has been ripped open. Another girl is dragged out of view by The Beast. While just out of shot, he can be heard ripping her body open - it is clear that he is eating her body like an animal.

A still image from the film - a child's image of The Beast displayed on the wall

Classification criteria: Discrimination

The film focuses on the violent crimes of a man who has an extreme case of dissociative identity disorder (DID). While many of his personalities are kind, the dominant personalities are dangerous, violent and predatory. However, the film is far-fetched. It is not meant to be a realistic representation of people with DID, and does not attempt to misrepresent anyone with the real-life disorder. Nonetheless, this representation, though theatrical, is insensitive, and it does endorse some negative and false stigmas about DID that may affect viewers' attitudes in a harmful way, and upset individuals with this disorder.

A still image from the film - Kevin in the bunker

Decision summary

The unrestricted availability of the film is likely to be injurious to the public good, mainly because of its treatment of horror, cruelty, violence, and themes surrounding child abuse. The violence, especially the cannibalism, is bloody and would shock and frighten children. The material that deals with the sexual abuse of children requires some level of maturity to process. In addition, younger viewers in particular may not recognise that the villain in the film is not representative of people with real personality disorders, and may develop negative attitudes towards this condition which already carries a negative stigma. Teenagers and adults are able to view and understand the film's content in the context of a well-made horror film, and would find it thrilling and suspenseful.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

Image of R13 classification label
R13: Violence, horror and content that may disturb