Film Review – Glass
M. Night Shyamalan is a filmmaker who exists in two different extremes. On one hand, he can set up interesting premises that draw us in with their mysterious, suspenseful, and horrific elements. On the other, the payoffs to these stories have been hit or miss (more often miss) with silly to incomprehensible closing acts. This is a writer/director who can give us good films like The Sixth Sense (1999) but then turn around and produce duds like The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), or After Earth (2013).
His career has been a mix of highs and lows, but in recent years it seemed like things were on an upswing. The Visit (2015) showed promise, but it was Split (2016) – a loosely based sequel to his earlier work Unbreakable (2000) – that appeared to be a return to form, with a bravura performance by James McAvoy. The fact that Split was so good only works to amplify how much of a disappointment Glass (2019) is. This is the third in a supposed trilogy, a capper that operates much like Shyamalan’s career – with a promising beginning, a stagnant middle, and a disastrous ending that completely flies off the rails. I know it’s still early, but we already have a nominee for one of the worst films of 2019.
Glass reunites all of the main players of Unbreakable and Split. We have David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a mild-mannered father who came to the realization that he has superhuman strength and can deduce people’s hidden secrets simply by touching them. There’s also Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) – better known as Mr. Glass – the evil genius whose body is so frail that a slight fall could break every bone in his body. And then there’s the aforementioned McAvoy, once again setting the screen on fire as Kevin, a serial killer inhabiting ten different multiple personalities, one of which is a brutal savage known only as “The Beast.”
Through a series of events, the three men are contained in a high security psychiatric hospital. They are looked after by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who takes it upon herself to dig deeper into their minds to point out why each of them believes they have supernatural abilities, and to perhaps cure them before they are locked away forever. Along for the ride are David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark, reprising his role from Unbreakable), Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) the lone survivor of Kevin’s crimes in Split, and Elijah’s mother (Charlene Woodward, also returning from Unbreakable).
Glass starts out well enough. Although Shyamalan’s work has been shaky, he’s always been a talented visual stylist. Mike Gioulakis’ camerawork is polished and refined. There’s good use of color throughout, distinguishing each of the characters – green for David, yellow for Kevin, and purple for Mr. Glass. Shyamalan sets a key interview scene between Dr. Staple and her three patients in a bright pink room. There’s no explanation for this, but visually it adds a nice texture to keep our eyes glued in. Light is also used in some clever ways. To keep Kevin’s personalities in check, his room is fastened with lights that flash when he exhibits aggressive behavior, triggering him to switch to a calmer persona.
Just as he did in Split, James McAvoy should be commended for taking on such a difficult challenge and accomplishing it with flying colors. Not only does he play different characters, who are all different ages, different sexes, and have different accents, but he has to go back and forth between them so quickly that it would be easy to lose track of who he is at any given point. But he makes each one so unique that there is no question which personality is currently “holding the light.” And when he plays The Beast, his body seems to literally grow in musculature. Even though this is his second go around with this character(s), McAvoy is no less fascinating.
The issues with Glass start at the writing level. The comic book motif, which was a part of Unbreakable, is expanded to a larger degree here but with far less effectiveness. In a time where audiences are subjected to comic book and superhero properties on a daily basis, having the characters dive into expository dialogue about how their predicament is comparable to that of a superhero story is laughable. Shyamalan’s screenplay has Mr. Glass explain the tropes of comic books as though it were some kind of revelation that no one was ever aware of. It comes off as condescending and patronizing toward the viewer. Not only that, but the dialogue is so forced that it feels unnatural. At one point characters will have a serious discussion and then someone will jump with a line like, “This is where the superheroes band together to take down the villain.” I applaud these actors for saying lines like these with straight faces.
The final act is an utter mess. Throughout the plot, we get subtle hints that the final confrontation between David, Kevin, and Mr. Glass will be an epic showdown, yet Shyamalan decides to shift down to something much smaller, meandering his way to an unsatisfying conclusion to each of the three character arcs. To make matters even worse, he closes out on a final twist that makes no sense, that comes out of nowhere, and left me feeling confused, bewildered, and frustrated. For a series that had a good part one and part two, to end with such a disappointing finale left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
M. Night Shyamalan has painted himself into a corner. He has become known as the “filmmaker with the twist endings,” and because of that his work has suffered because he has to come up more ways to surprise audiences even when a plot twist is not called for. Glass is the result of good ideas caught in a story that goes nowhere. Shyamalan works better as an underdog trying to prove himself, but once he gains some momentum he betrays himself with projects like this. Glass suffers from either trying too hard, or not trying nearly hard enough.