Emotional trauma has become the backbone of visual storytelling in recent years. Explorations of characters struggling with the fallout of horror have popped in every medium, from short films to long-form television. On the one hand, this has resulted in increased attention to mental health. However, sometimes the tropes become a dangerous subject matter to explore, partly because of their real repercussions. DID I? tries to walk the tightrope, creating a tense thriller about a character suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder. At times, the film from Sarah Tice reaches brilliant heights, but some uneven storytelling leaves the audience cold to its messages.
An aspiring writer and editor, Genevieve (Alexandra Pica) dives headfirst into the busy world of publishing. However, she struggles with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) which causes the manifestation of a second personality named Stevie. Genevieve attends therapy to help control her other personality. She regularly glimpses horrific visions without context about where the images come from. With her struggles at work causing more stress, Genevieve begins to give herself over to Stevie more. However, in the process, she begins questioning what Stevie does when she has control of Genevieve’s body.
Tice paints the world Genevieve inhabits with brilliant visuals. Using unique and ever-changing lighting schemes adds to the sense of unease. As we become unmoored from reality, the dreamlike horrors work exceedingly well. She ambitiously tackles difficult-to-create visuals, even when the budget may not always provide the cleanest image. However, the ambition on display is admirable, especially as an undead visitor begins to haunt our protagonist.
However, the impressive feats of filmmaking falter because of strange narrative choices. The choice to jump back and forth between the two versions of Genevieve/Stevie results in some fascinating moments. Many of these involve Genevieve becoming aware of Stevie’s ambition when she controls their body. Stevie wants her counterpart to succeed, and when she takes over in the workplace, it results in some interesting fallout.
At the same time, Genevieve almost seems required to use DID to move on from her intense mental anguish. Yet the Genevieve side of our protagonist is the one scared of the world, not her alternate. Instead, the extroverted Stevie puts our protagonist into dangerous and racy situations. To add to the problem, Genevieve’s awareness of her condition causes her to include it in her pitch for a novel at work. Tice then folds in sequences of the TV series, based on the novel, into Genevieve’s storyline. It’s an ambitious choice but does little to advance the narrative or tell us about the characters in any meaningful way.
DID I? comes close to touching a third rail on mental health issues but wisely stays away. At no point does Tice make the Stevie persona into a “superwoman” or even a hero. Instead, she appears as a deeply flawed individual that occasionally does the right thing. However, the depiction of the disorder continues to present troubling portrayals of DID. For example, while the depiction of auditory hallucinations can occasionally be accurate, visual hallucinations are more questionable. DID I? does not need these sequences to be an effective film, so their inclusion does little to help the narrative. In fact, it grounds the momentum to a halt.
The visual command shown by Tice, as well as Pica’s performance, make DID I? an interesting watch. However, whenever a film actively tackles mental illness through the lens of horror, a fine line exists between entertainment and inaccurate depictions. Considering the depictions of DID make the story more convoluted, it might have been better to slim down the plotline.