M. Night Shyamalan has a very mixed history, which is the kindest thing I can say about his filmography really. On one hand there’s modern classics such as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and some of Signs and on the other hand there’s After Earth, The Happening and, God help us, The Last Airbender.
In fact, Shyamalan was on somewhat of a low streak, in fact, he hadn’t made a good film in well over a decade, when 2016’s Split came around. So, the fact that Split ended up being one of that year’s stronger offerings was a bit of a shock, and what’s more, there was another shock awaiting at the end of the film, when Unbreakable’s David Dunn appeared, confirming the films were linked.
So, after a career revival and revisiting one of his most popular characters, anticipation was high for what many were hoping would be a new Shyamalan masterpiece, so let’s see what the resulting film brought us.
Following the events of Split, Kevin Wendell Crumb/’The Horde’ has left groups of murdered teenage girls in his wake, and has another group ready to feed to The Beast. He is traced down by David Dunn (now given the name ‘The Overseer’) and following an altercation between Dunn and The Beast, the two are detained in a mental institution, where Mr Glass awaits…
There was a fair amount of critical storm towards this film upon its release, with many citing its slow pace as it’s biggest negative, these people have apparently never seen a Shyamalan film before, which are characterised by their slow builds with explosive finales, and it’s the same thing here.
While I can see why there would be disappointment, as Split was more briskly-paced, but this was the exception as opposed to the rule. Unbreakable was a slow-burn, building tension and intrigue until the final reveal blew our minds, and Glass tries to follow this formula, as a result, it builds nice tension and character moments, a challenge for a film that is based almost entirely in an asylum, but each new development gives us a tease of what’s to come, a glimmer of a clue for us to guess the inevitable Shyamalan twist.
So, about that twist then, after leading us through a slow burn plot building tension and drawing us back into the characters, the twist ends up falling somewhat short.
Obviously being hampered by my ‘no spoilers’ rule isn’t exactly helping here, but following two films with arguably Shyamalan’s strongest twists with this really seems like he was desperately scrabbling for a twist just for the sake of one. While I wouldn’t say it’s a bad twist, it actually ties in with a previously innocuous scene in Unbreakable, it simultaneously manages to be too lazy, and too convoluted, which is an achievement in itself.
One thing I will give M. Night credit for though is giving us a definite ending to the story, once again trying hard to not spoil here. It’s rare in this age of franchises and shared universes that a creator draws a definitive line under their property with next to no chance of a sequel, so I applaud the fact that he isn’t going to draw this out longer than necessary.
Apart from the effective tension building, the films main strength is in its acting department. James McAvoy is once again outstanding, seamlessly transitioning between 24 distinctive characters is a titanic achievement for an actor, as most would make their performance overstretched or corny, but McAvoy avoids this by actually making each character distinguishable from the last, all helped along by some strong character writing from Shyamalan.
Alongside McAvoy in the lead roles are Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, who both bring their ‘A’ game back to two of their most familiar characters. Willis eschews his habit of sleepwalking through roles to produce a thoroughly engaging performance as David Dunn, a seemingly ordinary man with extraordinary powers, he comes across as tired and unsure of himself and above all, he’s still the same likeable every-man he was in 2000. Sam Jackson brings his undeniable presence and I’m not too ashamed to admit that seeing him back as Mr Glass gave me goosebumps.
While this film may be a disappointment to some, I came away very happy with Glass, I felt it gave me everything I wanted from the concept, while not fulfilling them as I imagined and suffering from being a tad over-written, I found real joy in the film, especially in its effective building of tension, acting and characterisations.
M. Night Shyamalan is an extremely flawed filmmaker, just as this is an extremely flawed film, but I can’t hold it against him because among the drudgery of some of his works shine bright, pure diamonds of ideas and concepts, he is never afraid to try something that might not work, to take a risk, which we see very little of in film. Sometimes his ideas don’t come off, and he ends up being the butt of jokes, but sometimes he creates things with great ideas and depth, and to me this shows one thing sorely lacking in the film industry: humanity. Yes he may not be perfect, but who is? Just as that applies to him, it applies to Glass, on the surface, very flawed, but underneath it’s human and driven by passion.
In conclusion then, if you look past its flaws, you’ll find an enjoyable tension ride that compares unfavourably when compared to the original film, however has enough to make it stand-out to make it a nice way to cap off the series. You may come away disappointed by it, and that’s fair enough, but for all its flaws, Glass is an effective thriller, with some great performances and if nothing else, gave us the opportunity to see Mr Glass ride again, which can only be a positive thing.