I should've seen this one coming.
The ebb and flow of M. Night Shyamalan should be predictable by now. Just look at his career. Every time he's ventured outside of his comfort zone--small, cramped, tense thrillers that appear to be one thing then flip on a dime--he's crashed and burned. He'll make a couple of those (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs), get labeled "the next Spielberg," then get a little too cocky and make a couple horrific catastrophes that deflate the ego balloon (The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth of course being the grand daddy of them all). After returning to his zone to make a couple hits (The Visit, Split), he's venturing out once again.
The ambitions of this notoriously ambitious director have perhaps never been greater. In the age of superhero movie franchises, dominated by the comic book behemoths Marvel and DC, Shyamalan is trying to create his own, by slapping together two of his previous films.
Trying and failing, obviously, because of the inverse relationship of that ambition and the quality of his work. Glass would've ranked as the worst movie I saw on 2018's list, and I have a hard time seeing it land anywhere other than dead last in 2019. It's a movie that's actually so bad it's kind of hard to analyze.
There's barely anything resembling a narrative arc. Instead, the central characters from the previous movies (Unbreakable, Split) are stuck together in a hospital. Nothing really happens in that hospital except for a doctor (played by Sarah Paulson...poor, poor Sarah Paulson) walking around and trying to convince them that their superpowers are fake and can be explained by science.
Which, honestly, who cares? If I can fly, or have super strength, do I really care if science can explain why? If Bruce Willis' ability to see visions into other people's character when he touches them is actually just an extremely keen intuition, picking up on clues as Paulson's doctor suggests, does that make really any difference at all? Keen intuition, at a certain level, is a superhuman ability.
And McAvoy's multiple personality disorder, which is recognized both in real life and in Split as a legitimate mental illness, you're going to tell him that's fake too? As a matter of fact, yes she is, and to raise the absurdity even further the movie decided to bring back the girl that he abducted in Split who has been "thinking about him" a lot and may actually have feelings for him (friendly or even romantic)??
It's a wild premise, and it doesn't really go anywhere. The characters talk in their own rooms, then they talk all together in the same room, then again in separate rooms. Exciting stuff! Predictably, they escape and fight at the end (I really don't mind spoiling it since I don't want you to go see it).
So if we're not going to have any plot, we'd hope that the interactions between characters could make up for it. After all, these are colorful characters. Instead, we received some of the worst dialogue I've ever seen in a movie. Blatant exposition dumps, followed by hollow philosophizing that literally sounds like it's coming straight out of a middle school book report on comic books. Some of the things they got Samuel L. Jackson to say in this movie...I truly cannot believe they convinced him to read some of those lines.
The abysmal script is not helped at all by Shyamalan's direction. Most shots are flat, or confusing, like the incessant use of first person and point of view cameras. This is the facet I'm most shocked by, because Shyamalan has always has the ability to create dramatic atmospheres with his camera. This whole thing looks like it could be a TV network procedural with how it's shot.
The mystery that keeps audiences hooked to Shyamalan's best work is completely gone here. All of the tricks are out of the bag. Even McAvoy's incredible character-switching gimmick wears thin. We know all of the characters' motivations coming into the movie, and they don't change at all over the course of the events.
Except for maybe Paulson's motivations, of which I can say no more without giving away the Shyamalan twist. Suffice it to say it is highly disappointing. And more egregiously, it sets up further sequels.
I will not waste my time on those. Neither should you. Catch you in like five years M. Night, when you decide to get back to your zone!
The Sixth Sense (1999)
The first time I saw this was one of the purest movie experiences of my entire life. It came only a few years ago, when I and two of my roommates were sitting in our living room flipping through streaming services--legal and illegal--looking for something to watch. We had been on a run of watching scary movies, or "hoodies up" movies as we called them, because we were all wimps who would get legitimately scared and needed the protection of hooded sweatshirts over our heads in order to get through them. I will admit..we were not the coolest kids at this particular university.
Somehow, none of us had seen M. Night Shyamalan's breakout smash hit, and rarer still, none of us had had the crazy twist ending spoiled for us. If you haven't had the twist ending spoiled for you, then you are in for a similarly pure experience. This is the movie that invented the "Shyamalan twist." It invented M. Night Shyamalan as genius auteur. It invented Haley Joel Osment as the greatest child actor in the world (and an Oscar nominee). It reinvented Bruce Willis as something more than an action star. I can tell you definitively that at least one of those three inventions was a good thing.
Seriously though, this is a classic. If you call yourself a fan of movies, you need to see it. Just make sure you grab your favorite hoodie beforehand.
Unbreakable (2000), Split (2016)
Unbreakable is among my favorite superhero movies of all time. Unsurprisingly for those that know me well, the reason is because it really is not a superhero movie. It hides that fact as long as possible, and uses legitimate drama and mystery to carry the narrative weight rather than capes and CGI punchfests. It makes you really have to reckon with what it would be like if a person with superpowers lived among us normal people. Bruce Willis stars (seeing a theme here?) and Samuel L. Jackson is perfectly cast alongside. It's a clever concept that's well-executed and more than capable of standing on its own.
So is Split, which is carried by a truly transcendent performance from James McAvoy. It's a very showy role, sure, but if it's not played perfectly it ruins the whole project. Instead, McAvoy elevates it. Unlike Shyamalan's other projects, this movie isn't building towards a classic twist ending that turns the entire plot on its axis. It's kinda sorta just tacked on at the end, and my conspiracy theory is that he had grand plans on a shared universe beforehand. Instead of going to see Glass, just watch these two movies separately and pretend they aren't connected. It's a way better use of time.