Opening Friday, Jan. 18
The twenty years spent analyzing M. Night Shyamalan’s oeuvre (yes, it’s been that long since The Sixth Sense) feel like they’ve included just as much analysis of his psyche. That’s a lot of curiosity for a director who boasts three good films to his name, followed by a decade of disappointments. Perhaps it’s the irresistible rise-and-fall narrative, a filmmaker exhibiting such promise who then fails so precipitously. As with Shyamalan’s films and their inevitable surprise endings, we’re waiting for the redemption plot turn.
Shyamalan enjoyed a minor comeback with The Visit. Then two years ago, the final shocking shot in his modest horror thriller Split established that film as a sequel, of sorts, to 2000’s Unbreakable. The stage was set for a follow-up that unifies and finally expands upon the heady, neo-noir comic book milieu that Shyamalan conceived in Unbreakable. The result is Glass, which picks up several weeks after the conclusion of Split and brings together the three protagonists/antagonists from the previous two films, each representing a superhero character trope.
David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is the reluctant hero, who has spent the past nineteen years running a security agency with his son (Spencer Treat Clark, also reprising his role from Unbreakable) that’s a front for David’s super-strong vigilante hero, now known as The Overseer. Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy, whose incessant shtick quickly grows tedious) is the anarchist, cursed with multiple personalities collectively referred to as The Horde, chief among them a savage monster called The Beast. After David foils another kidnapping by Kevin—capped by a rather uninspired fight scene that’s not the film’s last—the two are caught and committed to the same asylum that houses the brittle but diabolical Elijah Price, aka Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). Elijah is the evil genius, and he’s apparently spent the last nineteen years playing catatonic possum, waiting for the right time to continue both spreading mayhem and making the world aware that superheroes exist.
If watching a shrink spout psychobabble is your idea of a good time, then, by all means, Glass is the movie for you. Sarah Paulson’s psychiatrist tries to convince her three patients that they’re suffering from delusions of grandeur, spawned by painful childhood trauma and perhaps overstimulated frontal lopes. Indeed, while fictional superheroes are often born from personal tragedy, so are serial killers. The film’s most intriguing aspect is that not only do the characters begin to believe her, but so does the audience. Later, during a climactic clash between David and the Beast, Shyamalan repeatedly shifts the angle of their tussle to long shots that make their supposedly titanic brawl appear comparatively insignificant. The effect is almost comical and, presumably, purposeful.
However, in his ever-present, insidious compunction for a twist ending, Shyamalan ultimately undermines any ambiguity, leaving us with a bog of plot contrivances, secret societies, and an underwhelming clarion call for supers around the world. The big reveal isn’t something that was hidden, but that there wasn’t really anything of substance to reveal all along.
It’s a denouement that demonstrates Shyamalan still places more importance on himself over his art, no matter how long it took to create. His imagination has always outshone his filmmaking, and so it is with Glass. We’re still waiting for that redemption plot turn.