Roughly 10 minutes into Glass – the final film in M Night Shyamalan’s ‘Eastrail 177 Trilogy’. Spencer Treat Clark’s character Joseph Dunn explains the concept of internet meme “Salt Bae” to his bemused father David (Bruce Willis). David seems suspicious. “That’s all he does?” he asks gruffly. “Puts salt on things?”
If we consider Glass a self-reflective metaphor for Shyamalan’s entire filmmaking career. Perhaps the question is as much about him as it is a Turkish butcher who became a viral sensation back in 2017. After all, Shyamalan has become similarly defined for one single element of his oeuvre: plot twists.
There’s a scene early in the third act of M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass where you can actually feel the movie come off the rails. Up until that point it’s been somewhat uneven, chatty and maybe a little dour. The kinda thing some people might call “deliberately-paced“.
But then this particular moment happens, and suddenly everything goes haywire: The goofy undertones suddenly become goofy overtones. The script piles one twist on top of another, there’s an incongruously hopeful beat. And then the film’s title smashes onscreen for the second and final time.
The audience I saw Glass with seemed somewhat gobsmacked by what they’d just witnessed, unsure how to proceed.
It wasn’t that the twists were extra clever, or that the film hadn’t mostly done what its ad campaign promise it would do. No, this was a group of people who seem legitimately unsure whether they enjoy what they’d just seen. It reminded me of the audience reaction to Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, another highly-anticipated genre entry fill with weirdo curveballs and (ostensibly) Big Ideas.
And as was the case with that film, I suspect most people will ultimately reject Glass. This is not the crowdpleaser so many people wanted (I’d argue that it repeatedly goes out of its way to avoid becoming that crowdpleaser). Its knowingly ridiculous flourishes will register as simply ridiculous to almost everyone. Of course Shyamalan’s films have always been on a very particular, very narrow wavelength. But this one’s up there with Lady in The Water and The Happening in terms of aggressively committing to the bit, and you know how people felt about those movies.
That’s right, Shyamalan apologists: it’s time to mount up.
If you thought we were in the shit before, whoa buddy, just wait until you see what the trenches look like this time. It’s gonna be a motherfucking bloodbath out there.
Following the massive success of Split in 2016 – and a pretty great cameo at the end of the film from Willis. He confirming that Split and 2000’s Unbreakable exist within the same cinematic universe – a sequel was duly announce. The prospect of Willis and Samuel L Jackson reprising their roles as comic book adversaries David Dunn and Elijah Price was enticing enough. Though there’s always trepidation when it comes to revisiting old ground. To wit, Shyamalan has a decidedly checkered filmmaking history, ranging from the sublime (The Sixth Sense, Signs) to the ridiculous (The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth). What could possibly go wrong…
Fittingly, Glass feels like three personalities at war with one another.
The first comprises the opening 45 minutes or so, a period in which all of the characters are reintroduce and positione around the board. We find out that David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is now running a home security store with his son (Spencer Treat Clark).
Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) is back at it again with the kidnapping hijinks, terrorizing a quartet of cheerleaders in an abandoned warehouse and waiting for his most violent personality, The Beast, to show up and eat everyone. Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) is not-so-safely tucked away in the local mental institution. That is an apparently harmless threat until Dunn and Crumb get captured and find themselves living up the hallway from him. They’re all to be overseen by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who specializes in patients who believe themselves to be superheroes.
During this stretch, Glass is sleek, exciting and pretty much exactly the movie. We all pictured in the wake of Split’s surprise ending. Then a mood swing occurs, and suddenly Glass is a movie about people trading exposition in claustrophobic little rooms. This section of the film also runs about 45 minutes. But manages to feel twice as long thanks to the fact that so much of it is just talking, talking, talking. It’s never quite boring, mind you. But it also feels like a pronounce downshift from the relative excitement of that opening act.
It’s here that Glass will lose most of its audience. The vast majority of which has spent the years since Unbreakable being conditione to expect non-stop thrills from their superhero movies. Instead they’ll find McAvoy trying on nearly two dozen personas, Willis glowering, and Jackson mostly just sitting catatonic in a wheelchair.
Rating: PG-13 (for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language)
Genre: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan
In Theaters: Jan 18, 2019 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Apr 16, 2019
Runtime: 110 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
It’s good to have him back. It’s a great looking film, it’s great storytelling, and again he really takes his time.
There are a few thoughtfully placed cameras and thrilling moments – Bruce Willis vs. a door, for one – but they’re not nearly enough to make this self-conscious live-action comic book worthwhile.
Hollywood and its superhero franchises are all but coextensive, and Shyamalan’s confrontation with the ubiquity, popularity, and dominance of superheroes gives “Glass” a second-level urgency.
You have to admire Shyamalan’s efforts to deconstruct a genre that he evidently loves, yet there is just so little to haunt or to fool us in the result, and a few sharp laughs might have helped his cause.