Please note: some spoilers for Unbreakable and Split will follow.
Before we get started, I want you to engage in a brief exercise. Let’s pretend you’ve got a recipe for, say, cookies. And they’re amazing cookies. Cookies you’ve had before, and you loved, and the people you fed them to loved them as well. It’s a tried and true recipe, always reliable, always enjoyable. You’ve got all the ingredients laid out in front of you, and some great music playing in the background, and a good drink next to you. You carefully assemble and mix the ingredients, carefully and lovingly. Then you take that perfect formula, and instead of scooping out cookie-sized dollops onto a baking sheet and baking them, you drunkenly throw the whole damn bowl into a pot of boiling water and create a bloated, soggy disaster.
Welcome to Glass, the newest film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and the conclusion to his superhero trilogy that began with Unbreakable and Split. There’s been a good deal of anticipation for this one, especially since the remarkable reveal in Split that the story of David Dunn (Bruce Willis) was not over. Glass, named for the surprise villain in 2000’s Unbreakable brings Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), David Dunn, and James McAvoy’s multiple-personality-afflicted Kevin together in a mental hospital run by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). She’s there to try to convince the three of them that they suffer from a distinct type of delusion and that they are not, in fact, superheroes (or villains, as it were). Also, in the mix are Casey (Anna Taylor-Joy), the final girl from Split, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), David’s son (niftily played by the same actor who played him as a little boy in Unbreakable), and Mrs. Price (Charlayne Woodard), Elijah’s mother.
There’s a lot going on in Glass, as one would come to expect from the culmination of an unexpected, 18-year-old trilogy. But it’s ultimately all for naught. Glass is bitterly disappointing, because everything you need for it to be a phenomenal film is right there. You have a rock-solid foundation — Unbreakable is arguably one of the best superhero films ever and Split is a manically unexpected delight. You have a brilliant cast. You have three truly remarkable main characters, all of them doing fantastic work here. Bruce Willis is great as the quiet, driven David, and Jackson shines as the clinically calculating Glass, a villain who manages to effectively be menacing despite being so tragically fragile. McAvoy is absolutely incredible as The Horde, a collective of 24 distinct personalities, individuals often at odds with each other over whether or not to release The Beast, the inhumanly strong iteration that hungers for power. Filled with unique facial tics, accents, movements and mannerisms for each personality, McAvoy is breathtakingly good and often almost — almost — makes you truly believe you’re seeing different people onscreen.
And yet despite all of that, it doesn’t matter, because M. Night couldn’t help himself and just… M. Nighted all over the damn thing. Glass is an utterly boring production, full of stunning close-ups and fascinating camera work, all for naught because it completely fails to stimulate any sense of actual suspense or drama. It drags itself towards its finish line, repeating itself over and over and over, forcing poor Sarah Paulson to deliver redundant dialogue in an inexplicable monotone, devoid of expression or emotion. It coaxes excellent performances out of its other leads, but there’s no purpose to any of it. I can barely even talk about the terrible misuse of Anna-Taylor Joy’s thankless work in a dreadful role that starts out so wonderfully promising but then undercuts her character so viciously that it’s almost painful to see. She’s given nothing more than to become literally the beauty to McAvoy’s Beast, a Black Widow-esque lullaby to his Hulk, whose fascinating, complex backstory is erased in service to Shyamalan’s foolish story.
Finally, after this despairingly long slog, filled with little more than interminable shots of them in the hospital, the film culminates in a thoroughly unexciting climax that takes place … on a lawn in front of the hospital? But no, there’s a twist! That you won’t care about. But then there’s another twist! That … you also won’t care about. In fact, the final shot of the film, its great reveal, is so staggeringly uninteresting that it almost seems farcical.
There are many things that made Unbreakable so great, and chief among them was that it was so brilliantly paced, a slow, gripping, intensely focused story that carefully peeled back its layers as it progressed. Shyamalan tries for that same deliberate, concentrated pace here, but the storytelling is so bereft of any kind of grip on the viewer that it just feels like you’re mired in this drab script that you can’t get out of. Worse still, it just doesn’t make sense, requiring logic leaps that defy any sense of reality or cognitive ability. It has plot holes you could fly a space shuttle through, inexplicable decisions about story and twists that don’t hold up to even the faintest scrutiny.
Undeniably, Glass had a lot to live up to. Shyamalan’s cinematic resume is a bit of a roller coaster, but the two films leading to this are both one of his best (Unbreakable) and one of his most entertaining (Split). It’s that expectation that makes this stumble feel so much like a slap in the face. It’s jarring how tonally dead it is, how devoid of energy and soul and heart. It’s a dreary, time-sucking march — I was shocked to learn that it’s only two hours and ten minutes long, because it felt like a week. Halfway through my Thursday night viewing, I thought I was going to be late for work. On Tuesday. It was a movie I intended to savor — I splurged for the Lux seats, damn it! But 45 minutes in, I switched from beer to whiskey because bourbon was the only companion that could help me endure this mess. What the fuck, M. Night? What the absolute fuck were you thinking?
Header Image Source: Blumhouse