From “Unbreakable” to “Glass” the ever-unexpected twists and quality of Shyamalan part 2

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Trey McCabe, Memorial Staff Writer

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To find a spoiler-free review of Shyamalan’s latest film Glass, click here. If so desired, come back to this article after viewing the film to avoid spoilers.


Glass is supremely underwhelming, and as much was stated in the spoiler-free review. However, Shyamalan’s propensity for twists, both well and poorly done, makes the task of reviewing his films on the whole particularly difficult. Before dissecting the aforementioned twists, it might be best to unpack each of the film’s characters further.

First up to bat is James McAvoy as Kevin/The Beast/Horde/Other Assorted Personalities, who honestly delivers just as fine a performance as he did in Split. Not much of note is done with this character, though, aside from a few brief moments in which hitherto unseen personalities are displayed, as well as two particularly tender exchanges between Kevin Wendell Crumb, his inherent, most basic personality, and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy).

Casey’s character gives the audience the first major indication that something is not quite right with the story we are being told. Where she excelled in Split, she disappoints to the utmost in Glass. In writing the latter, Shyamalan seems to have neglected to provide the same dimensionality to Casey’s character, instead relegating her to the role of Stockholm Syndrome-laden spectator, helpless to do much of anything except for advocate for the real man inside the Beast, only to watch him ultimately succumb to the darkness of his alter ego.

Also in the stands to watch the big showdown are Dunn’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clarke) and Price’s mother (Charlayne Woodard, who likewise reprises her role from the first film of the trilogy), who, much like Casey, do little more than present their case for their respective super-relative. Their presence in the film does little to elevate it, instead forcing it to spend precious time dawdling on their non-action.

Even our other two leading men, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), have very little by way of worthwhile character development. The former spends most of his time in the film simply reversing his convictions from Unbreakable, while the latter is fauxing a catatonic state half of the time and scheming the other half. To further exacerbate this issue, neither Willis nor Jackson shine with the brilliance that they did in the first film: Willis turns in his quiet, somber performance for a bad concoction of stern-faced stoicism and pathetic mopiness while Jackson trades his disarmingly enigmatic persona for laughably corny line readings. It is a tragic sight to behold.

Dr. Staple’s character (Sarah Paulson) only acts as a natural force for our set of protagonists and antagonists to react against, making her presence feel more like an arbitrary nuisance than a narrative necessity. She is quite frankly irritating when on screen, and Paulson cannot seem to transform the character’s poor writing into something remotely interesting.

This brings us to Third Act Twist Hour with our host M. Night Shyamalan, who puts the final nail in the coffin of his long-awaited passion project with all the grace of a sledgehammer. On tonight’s show, Shyamalan has not one, not two, but three twists up his sleeve to vex you, all of varying types and quality. (This is the final spoiler warning for Glass.)

The film’s first proper twist is probably its least offensive, revealing that Kevin’s absent father died in the same train wreck, the Eastrail 177, that Dunn survived 19 years ago. This information is delivered well enough with a composite shot which melds new footage of Mr. Crumb with the opening shot of Mr. Dunn from Unbreakable. It would nearly have worked, if not for Joseph spouting blatantly incessant exposition while the shot plays out. Still, Twist No. 1 sufficiently ties the three films together narratively, and can’t be excessively faulted as a result.

Twist No. 2, however, has none of its predecessor’s better qualities, operating as a bald-faced Deus Ex Machina plot development which falls into the lap of the audience much like a dead pigeon might: startling, unexpected and absolutely revolting. The moment after a sniper takes out The Beast, we are shown that this gunman bears a three-leaved clover tattoo on his wrist. That’s strange, you think; in the past hour and 45 minutes, I have not seen this obviously important symbol until now.

Not two minutes later, the same tattoo is unveiled on our beloved Dr. Staple. Surprise! She’s not a superhero psychologist at all, she’s really a member of a secret society whose mission is to find superpowered individuals and eliminate them and the threat they pose to the wider non-super populace, a fact she informs Dunn of as he is drowned by one of her men.

What a nifty little way to derail a movie, don’t you think?

While some may argue that Unbreakable’s twist is much the same, there are key differences which elevate the one and lower the other. Where Unbreakable’s twist deepens Elijah’s character and his woefully misplaced sense of identity, as well as his relationship to David, Glass’ twist does nothing to retroactively fill out the gaps in Dr. Staple’s character or the story at play.

The third and final twist, though, is indicative of its most disconcerting issue, especially as the closer to a trilogy; that is, its intense lack of catharsis. After our three supers die unceremoniously in the final brawl (Mr. Glass is knocked out his wheelchair by The Beast and just sort of bleeds out), Dr. Staple gets to work on cleaning up the situation, such as video evidence of their abilities. As it turns out, Glass capitalized on the copious number of security cameras at the facility, and broadcast the footage on the internet posthumously. Evidently, his grand scheme involved all three deaths which occurred, but he considered it a necessary sacrifice to spread the Gospel of Comic Books according to the prophet Elijah Price.

While this philosophy fits more or less in line with Price’s previously established worldview, it is the execution of Twist No. 3 which drags the film down to his depths of bad storytelling. It smacks of anticlimax and allows inchoate narrative resolution to conclude a once formerly story. The film’s final scene furthers this aspect, bringing our three non-super friends and family together to watch the fruits of Price’s labor grow as the world begins to properly recognize the existence of super-powered individuals.

The scene is particularly strange, as Joseph, Casey and Mrs. Price’s advocacy for their respective conjugates are more or less incompatible. Joseph wanted his father to be able to fight crime without the inhibitions of the law, Casey wanted Kevin to conquer his demons (and in effect, not be the villain he was) and Mrs. Price wanted the general public to recognize Elijah’s intellect in spite of the mass acts of terror he committed. But in Shyamalan’s vision, they all find solace together in the world finally understanding to whatever degree they do.

It’s difficult to find a phrase which encapsulates this conclusion other than “it doesn’t make any sense.” It seems that’s really the only thing that can be said.

As much of a failure this film was on every level but technical, it remains a fascinating piece of cinema that does not abide by the laws of the current Hollywood climate. Glass really shouldn’t exist at all, to be frank. And yet it does, a testament to Shyamalan’s constant dedication to his work over the past 20 years, an artifact of his best and worst qualities, a manifesto of his filmmaking philosophies. Glass is a terrible movie, but it’s the terrible movie he was destined to make all along.

Contact Trey McCabe at [email protected].

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