Written & Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Without even realizing it, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has been every present in my adult life. Twenty years ago, this August, I saw The Sixth Sense on one of my first weekends at college, and it messed with my head. Many years later, having seen much darker and more horrific cinema, I don’t think it could affect me as profoundly, but it remains a good film. A year later I was in the theater seeing Unbreakable, a film that was everything I ever wanted in a superhero movie. I remember seeing Signs while I was staying with a friend for a month in Montgomery, Alabama. My first viewing of The Village was at the now shut down Springfield Cinema here in my hometown. I was living in Washington state when I went to the theater on my own the summer of 2006 and saw Lady in the Water. My last Shyamalan cinematic experience was watching The Happening at a theater in Puerto Rico with my then girlfriend (now wife). She yelled at the screen at one point due to how genuinely terrible that movie is. From then on I’ve only ever watched his films outside of theaters and entirely skipped After Earth due to The Last Airbender being so damn bad. Shyamalan is a filmmaker who continually has me wondering how everything went so wrong, how he could go from making something like Unbreakable which still holds up to giving us The Visit, a film that is so flawed and broken. So now, nineteen years after Unbreakable he finally gives us the closing chapter in that story.
The film Glass finds David Dunn (Bruce Willis) running a home security store with his son Joseph. At night, Dunn dons his green rain parka and wanders the streets in search of criminals with Joseph acting as his dispatch back at the store. Young girls are turning up dead throughout Philadelphia, and Dunn has finally narrowed his search to an industrial area of town where through sheer happenstance, he runs into Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy). It turns out Crumb is the one behind it all, feeding his Beast persona (as seen in Split). A showdown ensues but is interrupted by authorities who subdue and detain Dunn and Crumb. The two men are brought to the Ravenhill Sanitarium for evaluation for trial. This happens to be the same hospital where Elijah Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) has been held since the events of Unbreakable. Now that these three forces of nature are together it is inevitable that something huge will come to pass.
I was genuinely holding out hope that despite all the stumbles Shyamalan would find his way back to what made Unbreakable such a great film. What I felt as the ending credits rolled on Glass was disappointment and a sense that I finally needed to give up on this filmmaker. Despite being titled “Glass,” we get no more profound insight into Elijah Glass’ character, and he remains mute and offscreen for most of the first half of the film. When he finally does come out of his catatonia, he delivers the expected villain spiel and just sort of retreads his themes from Unbreakable adding very little to what we already know. This is not a film about Elijah Glass, it’s just a sequel to Unbreakable, so I have to wonder why Shyamalan titled it as such.
The film takes place mostly inside Ravenhill where Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) works to convince the three men that they suffer from delusions of grandeur. Despite all Dunn has seen and the fantastic tasks he’s performed she manages to get him to show doubt. It’s just tough for me to buy that after nearly twenty years of using his abilities Dunn would be so easily convinced otherwise. Crumb is much more unstable, and his entire hook is that he’s a jumble of personalities, being convinced by a psychiatrist to doubt the Beast’s powers makes sense, but not for Dunn.
There are such missed opportunities to explore and analyze the idea of superheroes and the way we consume them in such quantities. So much has changed since 2000 before Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was released. Superhero movies were seen as a risky move, and now they have jumpstarted the cinematic universe phenomena. The CW is practically still going because of superhero tv shows. In Unbreakable, the idea of the superhero has modern myths detailing true exploits but distorted and reframed made that film feel like a contemporary story of the rise of a classical hero. Shyamalan could have had some commentary on the exploitation of superheroes in this universe, a loss of purity and a turn from using powers for good and instead for profit. However, I suspect he didn’t put much thought into the underlying philosophy of what Glass was. He just had some plot beats in mind.
The ending of Glass is your typical Shyamalan “What a twist!” fare. Things of consequence happen, and we’re left to wonder what comes next. I wish I could say I was emotionally affected by what transpired on screen, the same way Unbreakable with its constrained and thoughtful tone moved me to tears in 2000. Glass isn’t a complete failure like Lady in the Water or The Visit, but it isn’t as entertainingly terrible as The Happening. The film sits there reminding you of how good this creator used to be and how, somewhere along the way, he lost his sensibilities and decided to give us work that was beneath his talent.