The reveal at the end of M. Night Shyamalan’s fabulously bonkers kidnapping thriller Split, when we learn that we have been watching a stealth sequel to Unbreakable – his brilliant deconstruction of the superhero myth – was one of the most fun moments I had watching a film that year. We all know that Shyamalan is a dab hand when it comes to a twist, but this one made my jaw hit the floor.
It was swiftly followed by the announcement of Glass, the final part in what has come to be known as the Eastrail 177 trilogy. I can’t lie, it was one of the films I was most looking forward to in 2019. The potential of a film with unassuming superman David Dunn (Bruce Willis) coming face to face with serial killer Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) and reuniting with his arch nemesis Mr Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) was almost too exciting for words.
Unfortunately, it must have been too exciting for Shyamalan, as he has made a complete mess of this film. It starts in promising fashion, with Dunn on the hunt for McAvoy’s split-personality psycho-killer. The film moves at a real lick, and there’s an undeniable thrill in seeing Willis reprise this character. McAvoy continues to be utterly astonishing as Crumb, switching effortlessly and convincingly through the many characters and personalities living inside him, including ‘The Beast’.
But after their brief confrontation they are both arrested and thrown into the same asylum where Elijah “Mr Glass” Price is being held. Here they are to be treated by Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who is determined to prove that their superhuman abilities are nothing but delusions brought on by a mental disorder. It is at this point that the film grinds to a halt. The main characters are kept apart for far too long, and the majority of the second act is handed over to Paulson – who is great – but it’s Willis, Jackson, and McAvoy that I came to see.
There are plenty of nice stylistic touches, but the tone of the film is utterly ragged. Glass tries to find a balance between the slow-burn thoughtfulness of Unbreakable, and the wild exploitation movie thrills of Split. It just doesn’t work. After the painfully dull second act, Shyamalan lets rip in the final third, and yet again sets up the potential for something really exciting. But yet again it disappoints, sadly collapsing under a pile of silliness and shonky effects.
It’s such a shame. There are so many great ideas here, and so much rich textual material. Then you’ve got Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, both on great form, but reduced to supporting roles. This is obviously to make room for McAvoy’s sensational performance – the kind of performance that would win every award if this was a prestige drama instead of a dirty genre film – but it would have been nice if the film had a bit more for Jackson and Willis to do.