The End (Glass, 2019)

glass_posterAfter 2000’s Unbreakable, there was a lot of talk that this was almost meant to be part of a trilogy. Shyalaman has been all over the map. He claimed he had no such plans when Unbreakable first came out…but about a year later talked about sequels. And I really loved Unbreakable. I wanted to get those follow ups. I wanted to see what David Dunn would do next.

When Split was revealed as a stealth sequel to Unbreakable, I was thrilled.  And the trailers had me quite excited for Glass.  So, did Shyalaman create a great trilogy?

Well, when David Dunn and his son (who run a security business together, and also work together in stopping crime) interfere with the Horde’s (the nickname for the character from Split) attempt to kill another group of young women, the two are captured by the authorities. They are sent to an institution where they are introduced to Dr. Ellie Staple.  She specializes in people who believe they have powers.

Her goal is to help them realize they are suffering a delusion.

The film makes it very clear that she is wrong, of course…and that is one of the problems of the film.  Staple clearly represents Shyalaman’s critics.  This is a petty bit of behavior that stretches back to at least Lady In the Water, in which Bob Balaban’s critic is presented as a fool who does not understand true genius.  And that gets portrayed here.  Except it is a little worse. Here, Ellie is an insincere critic, and she is arguable a central villain, rather than an oblivious one.

The film has some annoying retcons in its plans of revealing that Glass is an even bigger architect than we realized (to be fair, the retcon does not suggest Glass intended for this, it was just a convenient byproduct of his acts in Unbreakable).

Add to this the fact that the film does lean hard into the notion that the Horde is actually a separate thing from his superpower…it really undermines any defense agains criticisms of the portrayal of the Horde and mental  health.

There are some things I like. McAvoy does a great job in his performance. Jackson gives the kind of solid performance I expect. I also appreciate that both David Dunn and Mrs. Price are played by the same actors who played the roles in Unbreakable (the same for the Comic Shop Owner).

The reveal that all three films represented an origin story is a bit…deflating.  I mean, people complain about the decompressed storytelling of modern comics…but Brian Michael Bendis never took nineteen years to tell one story.

The film seems to unload twist upon twist in the final act and that gets tiring.  Glass is an underwhelming and disappointing ending to the Unbreakable story.

The Middle (Split, 2016)

split_posterAfter Signs, Shyalaman’s career took a hit.  Critics were brutal and try as he might, his films were not grabbing fans.  It was not until 2015’s Visit that he seemed to be picking up some steam.

In Split, we meet Casey and her friends who are abducted by a frightening man named Kevin.  It is quickly revealed that Kevin has a personality disorder with 23 known personalities.  His psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher, is working to try and help Kevin become dominant. But he has kidnapped the young girls for nefarious purposes.  He is not a sexual deviant though. His personalities are preparing the way for a new and frightening personality…the Beast…and the girls are innocents that he demands as a sacrifice.

Like the Visit, Split received criticism for its treatment of mental health. And this is a big  part of the plot.  Due to the portrayal of the Beast, a super-human monster, I felt that the film narrowly avoided this being the notion that he was fractured. These were unique and individual people. However, I realize that some will disagree with this read…and I am inclined to in the light of Glass, but I will address this in the Glass review.

Split hinges almost entirely on McAvoy’s performance. He can be ominous, terrifying and yet sweet and kind…sometimes all in the same scene. A good actor should be able to pull this off anyways, but still, McAvoy does it well.

This felt like a return to form, with a small but perfect twist at the end.  Split is one of the strongest films Shyalaman has made since probably Signs.

The Beginning (Unbreakable, 2000)

unbreakable_posterAfter the wild success of the Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan re-teamed with Bruce Willis for another film. Of course, everyone wanted to know what he would do next.

Bruce Willis is David Dunn, a regular guy with a wife and kid whose life is forever changed when he is the lone survivor of a massive commuter train wreck.  But it is not that he simply lived…he walked away without a scratch.

A stranger, Elijah Price enters his world who is convinced that Dunn is a uniquely gifted man. He pushes David to look to his past, where David realizes he rarely has been sick, save one event. But aside from a near drowning, he has never broken a bone and can be very hard to hurt in general. Price convinces the skeptical David that he has amazing powers…he is strong, semi-impervious and also has a… sixth sense, if you will, that allows him to get a sense of a person when he touches them.

He starts to use this to stop criminals, trusting Elijah. The film juxtaposes the two men.  While Willis’ Dunn is seemingly indestructible, Elijah suffers from a unique condition in which his bones are severely fragile. So fragile that the most minor of pressure can shatter a bone.  But where his body is in constant danger of destruction, his intellect is great.  His power is the strength of his mind.

This works really well.  You see how Elijah is able to push David to become a believer in his situation, to embrace his power, in spite of his early skepticism. This also brings he and his son closer, as his son is excited by the idea that his father is a super-hero.

I really appreciate how Willis’ performance grounds the film.  You find yourself unsure if you can trust your eyes. But you cannot help but hope it is true…that David is not being manipulated into buying into a delusion. And Elijah Price’s certainly helps the viewer.

The movie does have a twist, but in comparison to the Sixth Sense, it seems a bit less…drastic. It is absolutely a game changer, as the film is set up as a realistic super-hero origin story.  This is one of Shyamalan’s best films.  Willis and Jackson deliver terrific performances in a compelling story.

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