M. Night Shyamalan is a rollercoaster of a director. He seems to be making a comeback every two or three films only to deliver a dud or disappointment. The mastermind behind The Sixth Sense had gained some traction recently with the subsequent releases of The Visit and Split, two horror movies that played to his strengths. Glass is a sequel to Split as well as his 2000 superhero flick Unbreakable, and it seems to signal yet another downturn for the American director.
Glass is the third film of a supposed trilogy comprised of Unbreakable and Split. The film brings together the protagonists of both films, all whom have ideas of possessing superpowers, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has super-strength, Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy) has 23 distinct personalities, one of which has super-human abilities, and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) brittle bones, but a genius brain. The three are kept at a psychiatric ward in Philadelphia where psychologist Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) studies them.
There is something seriously wrong with marketing departments today, they are ruining many movies selling completely different products and expectations; this happened most recently with Widows. Glass isn’t so much a superhero film as it is an intellectual meditation on the genre (contrary to what trailers showed). The best scenes involve Paulson’s doctor as she dissects the superhero tropes and brings a realist perspective.
However, the film had the challenge of bringing together two very different movies. Unbreakable was a quiet and pensive superhero film, while Split was a gripping horror tale. The two were so different that they were even made by two different studios (Disney and Universal). This third iteration meshes both worlds and the result is that the stark contrasts are jaggedly visible and do not compliment each other. Shyamalan tries his best to show how clearly intertwined the previous two films were, with obvious inserts and cameos but his attempts are bluntly expository and embarrassingly sloppy.
Shyamalan is also known for having a big twist at the end of most of his films, and while sometimes these have worked out great (The Sixth Sense), other times they seemed very forced and unbelievable (The Village). Glass seems to be teasing twists, but when it finally comes, it left many in my theater scratching their heads and slumping their shoulders in disappointment. The story itself didn’t necessarily ask for a twist organically, and thus it feels roughly tacked on.
Then there’s the fact that Shyamalan had to juggle a bigger cast here, and while it might be a blessing for viewers to see such stars together on screen, for Shyamalan they seemed to be obstacles. While this may be pitched as an ensemble piece, the ensemble work seems to be scarcely fed. The story seems to be bouncing around too much so that each performance, from Willis to Jackson, ends up feeling more like a big cameo than an actual role in the film. James McAvoy playing his character from Split is stand-out, however, showing his incredible versatility by switching into three or four distinct personalities (a nine-year-old boy, an English woman, a man with OCD, and the nefarious “Beast”) in continuous takes. While he may not have more scenes than the other actors, his skill and electric impact are enough to elevate him above this entire film.
Glass was tying two previous films together that simply did not mix. There are some moments of pause where Shyamalan analyzes the comic-book craze that the real world is going through, but they are scarce and scattered. McAvoy is a standout for his portrayal of a man with multiple personalities, but aside from him the rest of the world is skimmed over. Shyamalan has tried his hand outside the horror genre multiple times, with bland or horrible results; perhaps he should stick to the genre that suits him best.