When ‘Split’ released last year in January, moviegoers the world over were overwhelmingly taken aback by M Night Shyamalan’s return to form.
A horror movie told through the lens of a sick man with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), or split personality as it is more commonly known, ‘Split’ was a revelation — both in plot and its subtle exploration of abuse and the stories we tell ourselves to make life a little less scary.
James McAvoy’s stupendous performance was the icing on the cake that turned the movie into a sleeper hit. And when in the final scene it was revealed that ‘Split’ existed in the same universe as Shyamalan’s now-revered ‘Unbreakable’, all bets were off the table. It looked like Shyamalan had finally found something worth saying.
The jarring trailer for ‘Glass’ should have been warning enough. But hope springs eternal (especially when it comes to Shyamalan, who also makes a cameo, one of the nicer moments of ‘Glass’, lucid and filled with the kind of levity you come to expect from a seasoned director).
But instead of plot and action that will take the story forward, Shyamalan fills ‘Glass’ with plodding exposition on comic book mythos and superhero psyche. While it worked for ‘Unbreakable’, which released in the year 2000 (the same year the first ‘X-Men’ movie released and two years before Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’), 19 years on, almost every person who’s been to a movie theatre in the last decade has a working knowledge of how comic books work, turning Shyamalan’s over scrupulous story into something unbearably pedantic.
The movie begins like most superhero films: a big, flashy fight to test the powers of the main characters. Here, the Beast from ‘Split’ meets the unwilling hero from ‘Unbreakable’, David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the lone survivor of a train wreck, orchestrated by the evil mastermind Mister Glass (Samuel L Jackson). Dunn’s take on vigilantism as the Overseer, a hooded figure in a rain poncho dispensing justice as he sees fit, with a little help from his now all-grown-up son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark returns to the role he took up 19 years ago).
After the Beast, who calms down into one of his less-threatening alters, and Dunn are apprehended, they are taken under the wing of one Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), at the Raven Hill Memorial Hospital, where (surprise, surprise) Mister Glass is also being treated, bringing all our main players under the same roof. What could possibly go wrong?
The biggest faux pas of ‘Glass’ is the heavy hand with which it tries to dissect its main themes: Whether it’s about child abuse or about the world of comic books, Shyamalan is sorely missing empathy and a clearer vision. An awkward scene hastily cut into the second act sees a comic book shop owner explain the origin of superheroes to Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, who reprises her role from ‘Split’. In another scene, Charlayne Woodard, who plays Mister Glass’ mother, explains what a ‘showdown’ means. Two decades ago, these moments would have made a big splash, now they seem cringeworthy.
‘Glass’ also makes no effort to explain any of the phenomenon that it painstakingly set up in the first two movies. And that trademark Shyamalan twist in the end of the film feels anticlimactic and forced. Some of the best moments of ‘Glass’ are when it throws it back to ‘Unbreakable’. Two decades later, a single scene from that is enough to fill you with awe again.
The saving grace of the movie is again McAvoy. But while ‘Split’ had the added element of surprise to McAvoy’s brilliant performance, in ‘Glass’, it all feels a little too repetitive. Both Jackson and Willis turn out to be huge disappointments. While Willis looks like he’s on auto pilot, Jackson’s over-the-top villainy is too in your face for a movie that’s trying so hard to be crafty and artful.
The world wouldn’t have missed a thing if ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘Split’ had been standalone films exploring superhumans, one as a supernatural thriller and the other as a twisted, horror film, respectively. These were superior stories handled deftly and with a strong sense of the time and place they were made in. But in bringing these two stories from two decades apart together, Shyamalan bungled it all.
Watch ‘Glass’ if you care about this ‘franchise’, but otherwise have the better sense to stop while the going’s good. Shyamalan sure as hell didn’t.
Don’t miss it
Glass releases in the UAE on January 17.