Glass (2019)

Director: M. Night. Shyamalan

Writer: M. Night. Shyamalan

Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson, James McAvoy, Sarah Paulson, Anya, Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark

Cert: 15

M. Night. Shyamalan's latest thriller, Glass, brings together characters stretching back to the start of this century as the worlds of Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2017) finally collide. Three weeks after the events of Split, David Dunn is tracking down 'the Horde', the name assigned to Kevin Wendall Crumb's assortment of personalities. After Split was revealed to be a sequel to the cult-classic Unbreakable, separated by 17 years, Glass acts as the culmination of this multi-generational trilogy.

One problem though. Glass feels more like the start of a trilogy than the end of one. Like its two predecessors, the film is set on a small scale; the action is localised and grounded, tightly contained within a small cluster of characters and a single-digit number of locations. Glass is without a doubt part of the Unbreakable Universe. This decision to maintain a grounded story is a wise one, in theory, but rather than feeling measured, Glass feels like it has been restrained. In the same way that the central cast spends much of the film each confined to a small room, Glass also is held tightly in place, never allowed to blow off any steam. It lacks the gravitas and weight needed for a concluding chapter, and a trilogy which has been almost two decades in the making certainly deserves a little gravitas. Prior knowledge of Unbreakable and Split is helpful, but not exactly essential, with this third installment failing to reward the loyalty of the fans.

The biggest assets of Glass are ultimately it's biggest failings. Three larger than life characters played by three superb and experienced actors should make Glass an epic cinematic landscape, but the wrong concentration of each of these roles has produced a formula which is far too weak...

Bruce Willis' return as David Dunn is a joy to see, obviously enjoying reprising his role of 'The Overseer', but he is given very little time to show it. He is same reserved man, living very much in the real world and taking on the more realistic vigilante role rather than choosing to don the cape and tights like many of the heroes who populate 21st century cinema screens. Unfortunately, Willis is criminally underused, and should have been given a far more central role considering the character's 19 year hiatus. He is hugely neglected during the film's second act, reappearing again towards the end to give us a reenactment of his Unbreakable days, but brings very little of anything new - considering his lengthy on-screen absence, Willis' character seems to have had no movement forward.

Instead, much of the film's attention seems to directed to the much more recent - and perhaps more audience-pleasing - Kevin Wendall Crumb, the sufferer of Dissociative Identity Disorder played by James McAvoy. He is probably the star of the show - intended or not - and so Glass will likely be more satisfying for those who prefer Split over Unbreakable. McAvoy has been given even more of an opportunity to spread his wings, adding to his already impressive array of characters and being able to generate a story arc for several of them. He continues to embody each character flawlessly, giving each a distinct persona both psychologically and physically. It seems however, that McAvoy's character(s) seems to have lost its sinister edge. His transitions between them occasionally move from disturbing into comical, possibly due to the velocity at which the arrive and disappear, which is an issue he did not seem to have when filming Split.

With almost all the interactions between Dunn and Kevin taking the form of fight scenes, they are never really given a chance to connect as characters other than with their fists. Jackson's titular Mr Glass fares better, being able to build an understanding with 'The Beast' and briefly reminiscing of the olden days with Dunn, but these brief exchanges of dialogue are still limited and fail to hint at any kind of history between the two men.

Jackson is similarly neglected, wordlessly confined to his wheelchair for much of the film. We eventually get see first hand a ruthlessness to his character which was only spoken about during Unbreakable, but it arrives rather late. The brilliance of his mind is explored more effectively, but still feels - like the film - uninspired and unambitious. Anya Taylor-Joy appears also, but while her damaged Casey Cooke supplied Split with a huge emotional and narrative underpinning she gets little to no chance to build on this during Glass. Her growing connection to Kevin is perhaps her main contribution to the plot, and this doesn't feel natural and is perhaps the most unbelievable part of an already fantastical story.

Sarah Paulson is convincing as the prominent and articulate psychiatrist, but she belongs in a documentary rather than a thriller. It is her dialogue which consistently slows this film down, being far too wordy and cumbersome - too often, Glass insists on telling us what is happening rather than showing us. A lengthy interview scene during the film's middle is reminiscent of the first talk between Hannibal Lector and Clarice Starling, but lacks the magnetism and vigour required to maintain the film's momentum, and so does little to transfix the audience. Instead, it stalls, and everyone has to work hard to drum up some more energy.

It's not just the misuse of characters which let's this film down though. Shyamalan is famously the master of turning the tables on audiences, and true to his signature style he surprises us with an unexpected and game-changing plot point towards the film's end. However, previous shockers from Shyamalan have typically been right under our noses the whole time - The Sixth Sense (1999) is probably the best example of this. In Glass, however, this change of direction is less of a revelation and more of a right angle, coming out of nowhere rather than hiding in plain sight, summoning confusion rather than a sense of shocked bemusement at the fact that you hadn't cottoned on before.

The connection between the three films is woven together effectively enough, although it remains clear that this trilogy was an afterthought rather than planned from the start. The internal logic holds well, but it takes far too long for the three films to completely meld, by which time we are entering the film's final phase. As closing chapters go, Glass lacks the power and ambition to competently tie this trilogy together with a satisfying conclusion. True to its name, Shyamalan's third film in the so-called Unbreakable Universe is certainly the weakest.

In one line: Glass should burst the shuddering bubble of tension generated by Unbreakable and Split, but instead feels suppressed and restrained, unable to push boundaries in any direction.

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