M. Night Shyamalan has made a career of weaving cinematic tapestries that are supported by sentiment and emotion as opposed to logic and sense. His films have always felt like they have existed on the fringe of genre fare as opposed to slot within them comfortably.
In the comic book movie engulfed landscape, Unbreakable now stands as a sobering and deconstructing superhero drama that wields the origin story as a form of therapy for soothing middle-age malaise, and existential dread about one’s place in the world.
Split was an effective Hitchcockian inspired chamber piece about a captor and victim dealing with their abuse-filled past. One chooses to use it as a fuel for survival and the other chooses ascend to the most horrific version of himself to prevent it from ever happening again.
Unfortunately, Glass shatters under the weight of being a sequel to both of these films, making for an uneven and at times frustrating experience. Touted as the final film in The Eastrail 177 Trilogy: the 2019 film is about the coming together of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), Kevin Wendell Crumb and friends (James McAvoy) as well as Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). After Dunn thwarts Crumb’s recent abduction of four cheerleaders, they are both captured and placed in a mental institution alongside a comatose Price. They are all under the supervision of Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who attempts to convince them that their superpowers are a result of delusion as opposed to a miraculously bestowed gift.
Initially, Glass starts out with promise, boasting a premise that owes a great debt to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest as much as the deliberate pacing of Unbreakable. Crucially, the first half engages as a metatextual exercise in untangling the pop mythologising of the previous instalments.
This is accentuated by Shyamalan creating an intriguing status quo for his characters, in the near two decades that have elapsed since the first film. The picture is at its best in these small moments where we see how time has affected the characters.
In some regards, Shyamalan matches the intriguing aesthetics that permeated his earlier work. One standout sequence is a psychotherapy session in a pink room where the colour greatly juxtaposes with Staple’s authoritative scepticism about the group’s bold claim of being superheroes.
The performances also lend the film with some occasional weight. In particular, McAvoy’s Brechtian juggling of personas is particularly impressive when the character is conveying a palpable sense of torment and pain.
Sadly, disappointment abounds in Glass. Shyamalan trades in existential weight for comic book mythologising that never feels as particularly resonate or sharply drawn. This is a far cry from the deft balancing of both elements in the previous films. Now, the mythologising is like a needless indulgence that does not advance or take its characters in, particularly interesting directions. In this regard, it feels as though Shyamalan has nothing else to say with the medium, other using it as a prop for the supporting cast to look mildly excited by.
Worse yet, the twists feel wrapped around so tightly that it strangles the creativity out of the film. The film indulges in the worst instincts of universe building to tie films that thematically felt interesting together, but in reality, never coalesced into a cohesive film trilogy. This would be understandable if Shyamalan’s conclusions elicited some sense of pathos. However, in its final moments, Glass can’t help but feel hollow and empty.