Why does M Night Shyamalan's Glass feel so dreary?

by James Robins / 26 January, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Glass movie review

Glass, the conclusion to the Unbreakable trilogy, confirms that M Night Shyamalan is lost in his universe.

It’s somewhat reassuring to know, in this turbulent and uncertain world, that every few years M Night Shyamalan will make a movie, and it will be weird and baffling. Yet every now and again, the director will conjure something that provokes intrigue rather than pure fright. 2016’s Split was one: a rare Shyamalan thriller that actually thrilled, largely thanks to James McAvoy’s splenetic and playful performance as a malevolent loner with dissociative identity disorder – multiple personalities, in other words.

However, ego got in the way. Split’s ending revealed a shared world with the earlier film Unbreakable and its chief characters: David Dunn (Bruce Willis), bestowed with the power of invincibility, and fragile mastermind Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson).

Glass sees all three locked up together in an asylum – a showdown conclusion to this makeshift superhero trilogy. Glass is all at once a ruminating meta-commentary on the genre, a play on archetypes found in comic books, a critique of “extended universes” – even as it creates its own.

McAvoy makes a welcome return and somewhat redeems the film: a turn even more frantic and transformative than the last, flitting between a nine-year-old boy, a prim housewife, a punkish fashion designer, a Southern hick, a pair of Irish twins, the notorious “Beast”, and sometimes all of them within a single scene.

Why does it all feel so dreary, then? Fundamentally, there is a yawning gap between Shyamalan’s ambitious vision and his abilities as a film-maker. He’s neglected the talent for mood and atmosphere that made him great: the knottiness and tragedy of The Sixth Sense, the paranoia of Signs, the way Bruce Willis shouldered a hero’s cape in Unbreakable as if the weight of the world were dragging him under.

When high concept meets plodding narrative, the inherent silliness of the escapade is revealed.

By the close, amid a disappointing punch-up in a car-park, Samuel L Jackson is explaining the film’s plot and themes to us like they were some great revelation. But we’ve seen this done before, and done better. How far the mighty have fallen.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★

Video: Universal Pictures

This article was first published in the February 2, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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