You remember the train wreck in Unbreakable that Mr. Glass excitedly devises? Now, imagine if M Night Shyamalan created a similar train wreck, except in film form. There — you have Glass: A culmination of everything Shyamalan is and was — in the worst ways.
Glass, the completion of a trilogy involving Split and Unbreakable, opens with Ms. Patricia (James McAvoy) — one of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s 23 personalities. Wanted for numerous gruesome murders in the area, he’s abducted four high school cheerleaders and has them chained to a table. Meanwhile, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) — who owns a security shop — teams with his tech-savvy son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), to hunt for the unknown killer. When the two finally confront each other, Dunn and Crumbs, they’re arrested and committed to a mental hospital by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson): A psychologist who believes that neither Dunn nor Crumbs possess super powers; suffering, instead, from a mental psychosis that causes them believe they have powers.
The ensuing hour of “therapy” and flashbacks, as Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) is re-introduced as a drug-numbed patient, is only made tolerable by McAvoy. A strobe light occupies Crumbs’ hospital room, with each flash — caused by the emergence of a threatening personality — he changes to another alter-ego within The Horde (the accumulative hierarchy of his personalities). How the actor instantly switches from character-to-character is a marvel. While MaCavoy shines, Willis and Jackson are left literally to do nothing.
Instead, Glass devotes time to side characters like Dunn’s son, Mr. Glass’ mother (Charlayne Woodard), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) — the girl who survived the beast — reduced to the healing woman trope (you won’t need to have seen Split or Unbreakable to follow along). Their respective internal struggle of surmising if superheroes do exist, entangles the audience in an elusive quandary. And if Glass were only an exploration of this inchoate question, the film would be enjoyable. But a Shyamalan film: unstable and ruminative, is rarely so simple.
Shyamalan never commits to solely inhabiting the gruesome terror of Split or the comic book mythology of Unbreakable. This stylistic fissure he creates invades composer West Dylan Thordson‘s score, which abruptly switches from Hitchcock-inspired strings to uplifting synth swells. The result — like the narrative (even for this sucker for a synth swell) — is disjointed.
McAvoy, who carries this film, isn’t enough for a narrative mess weighed down by redundant exposition. Shyamalan grasps to combine two disparate storylines, with only vague visages of their interwoven origins. His films, once enliven by sly clues to foil the viewer: here, are replaced by a litany of repeated backstories that never push the narrative past block one. Even an intense high noon fight scene between Dunn and Crumbs isn’t as rewarding as Shyamalan would like, mainly due to their brief interactions throughout the film, and the director’s later reliance on Mr. Glass’ insistent harangues.
We’re stuck in the mud for so long, when the film does deep dive into the comic book mythology with allegorical zealous, the twist arrives like a rain-soaked comic; the images still retain some artistic fervor, though their connecting borders are blurred and the ending left unintelligible.
Characters are often born in the image of their creator. Where Dunn fits within Shyamalan isn’t altogether clear, but Mr. Glass’ connection to the filmmaker is distinct. One can imagine the prodigal director and screenwriter writing in a self-congratulatory fashion: like Mr. Glass — observing the panache of his plans, applauding his audience’s bemused reaction. On the other hand, The Horde also evokes the director. Because while Shyamalan must know when he’s transgressing the boundaries between twist and nonsense, he must also be aware of a saner path. Shyamalan — as a filmmaker — has shown himself to be many entities at once: genius, illogical, mysterious, provocative, hilarious, frustrating, etc. These elements are always at a struggle and sometimes they produce superhuman results from him; at other points — you wonder how much more good his talents could bring if all his facets were controlled. Glass is the most Shyamalan film the director has ever made: only in the sense that you wonder — what could have been.