M. Night Shyamalan enjoyed somewhat of a revival since The Visit (2015) and Split (2016), never quite meeting the triumphs of The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000), but still at least becoming watchable again.
As for Glass (2019), the third in a trilogy with Unbreakable and Split, the faults of his authorship stand in relief against these two stronger entries.
If you don’t know what to watch next, Glass is available on Amazon Prime. The psychological superhero thriller got largely negative reviews, with only thirty-seven percent of critics aggregated via Rotten Tomatoes praising the film.
The filmmaker also wrote, co-produced, and made a cameo appearance in the picture.
Unbreakable hero David “The Overseer” Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Split villain Kevin Wendell “The Horde” Crumb (James McAvoy) are institutionalized at the same Philadelphia facility as The Overseer’s nemesis, Elijah “Mister Glass” Price (Samuel L. Jackson).
There, Doctor Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist who specializes in treating patients who believe they’re superheroes or otherwise superhuman, studies the three characters.
But Mister Glass has a plan for escape, and with The Horde in his reach, an alliance between the two could spell doom for the city The Overseer can no longer protect.
The premise is the highlight of the movie – three of Shyamalan’s finest creations conflicting against one another in a setting evocative of the ambiguous realism making Unbreakable a masterstroke of suspense.
It would’ve done the same for Split, if not for a denouement which decisively answers the question, “Does The Beast exist?” when no answer is what gives Unbreakable its staying power.
For the first time since Unbreakable, the audience asks themselves if The Overseer, The Horde, and Mister Glass really are players in a comic book, or if they’re suffering from a collective delusion of grandeur; debating the truth of the text warrants devoted re-watches.
But Shyamalan makes the same miscalculation at the end of Glass as at the end of Split, except worse, unleashing a veritable Pandora’s box of absurdity onto his world-building that no amount of mystery could ever close again.
And he might not have made this error if he hadn’t marketed himself as a brand after the success of The Sixth Sense, the Wellesian wunderkind, the lovechild of Sir Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg whose signature style orbits the climactic twist (even at its most contrived).
It’s the reason why auteur theory, developed in postwar Europe as part of the French New Wave by early film critics obsessed with studying Hollywood directors, is problematic and borderline fallacious in the inherently collaborative world of moviemaking.
Shyamalan is indisputably talented – The Sixth Sense is one of the best of all time – but The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are greater than their twists, and even Hitchcock knew his limits. Hitch cast himself in cameos, but he never delivered a line, and he didn’t pen a word of dialogue.
His greatness lay in knowing when to take “no” for an answer.
If Shyamalan had an executive to answer to, or a seasoned screenwriter to ground his concepts into the dramatically satisfying, Glass might have lived up to its “super” potential.
What it is instead, is a delusion of grandeur.