Glass (M. Night Shyamalan, 2019) 2 out of 4 stars.
I still remember the frisson of anticipation, back in 2000, before I sat down to watch M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, given how much I had enjoyed his previous film, The Sixth Sense. Ah, good times … Since then, like many others, I have experienced a wealth of disappointment in my reaction to the director’s work, though for a while he would still show flashes of promise. His 2006 Lady in the Water marked the nadir for me, after which I watched nothing more until the miserable 2013 After Earth, a film that proved I had been right to avoid the man’s work. But then I watched the 2015 The Visit: far from perfect, it nevertheless impressed by how much it did not repulse. And even if I did not love the 2016 Split, there was enough of the old skill on display that I thought maybe – just maybe – we might be witnessing a career resurgence. Enter Glass.
A sequel to both Unbreakable and Split, the movie is by no means a complete disaster, offering an initially intriguing setup that reintroduces us to Bruce Willis’ David Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price (aka Mr. Glass) – stars of the first film – and presents at least a mildly reasonable explanation for how James McAvoy’s “horde” character – star of the second – fits in. Unfortunately, as with Unbreakable, there is no payoff to justify that setup, however interesting it seems in the beginning. We wait and we wait, and then wait some more, expectation becoming frustration becoming disbelief and then disappointment. Though Shyamalan tries for one of his trademark twists at the end, it feels tacked on (much like the text-on-screen cards at the conclusion of Unbreakable that substituted for an actual wrap-up). Worse, the swelling music that plays as the camera pulls back merely serves to emphasize the emptiness of the affair, rather than play in harmony with anything momentous. It’s a mess, though at least a mostly watchable one.
Sarah Paulson (The Runner) plays Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist – of dubious methods – who leads the team that captures our three protagonists with the goal of convincing them that their superpowers exist only in their own minds. That things will not go according to plan is cinematically foreordained, but for two-thirds of the film Shyamalan keeps us guessing as to everyone’s motivations. Early on, there is joy is in that suspense. But such excitement wanes when prolonged too long (and at over two hours, this is not a short film), only to sour further when the ultimate climax underdelivers. I can only imagine how boring the movie must be to anyone who has not seen either of its predecessors, so little effort does the director expend explaining the past, present or future. It’s a medium ado about not much at all, masquerading as a big deal; pull off that mask, as we finally do, and it’s just Shyamalan, hardly worth the effort.