dir: M Night Shyamalan
The truth is, we’ve been sucked in for a very long time by this guy. Like a televangelist or a very online Russian model looking for love who’s really a catfishing guy with stuff falling out of his beard who hasn’t seen daylight in weeks, it keeps working over the long run because many of us are just dumb enough to not want to admit that we keep getting fooled, again and again.
That’s a long way of saying that, even as people (with a hint of desperation in their voices) may claim this represents a return to form for someone who’s had bad film after bad film for over a decade, it still betrays an incredible level of dumbness in a way that can only make you laugh at the end product. There are scenes in this flick where you just wonder to yourself whether people tried to point out to the director just how inane some of his ideas are, or whether he just covers his ears and wails “nah nah nah can’t hear you” until they stop trying to point out the horrifically obvious.
Glass is, apparently, the third part of a trilogy to do with people in the ordinary world having superpowers. I didn’t see the second instalment, and never will, let’s be honest, because I cannot for the life of me imagine myself doing so. The first part was called Unbreakable, and was a pretty good flick, I thought, way back in 2000. The second part that I’ll never watch is called Split, and is about a lunatic played by James McAvoy who has the honour of playing host to 23 distinct personalities. Unfortunately, the only way movies like to use such a character conceit is as fodder for a serial killer flick where a jerk kidnaps and murders cheerleaders.
Very important for the character development that they be cheerleaders, for sure. One of those personalities, which the others fearfully call The Beast, is not only some demonic-sounding cretin, but, when the “feeling” comes upon the jerk, he seems to manifest supernatural abilities (like veins all over the place, and being able to dance on the ceiling).
Shyamalan has combined the earlier good flick with the latter tedious flick and brought back the Samuel L. Jackson character from Unbreakable as well, known as Mr Glass, for this third flick, where they are held captive in a psych institution by a psychiatrist (the always luminous Sarah Paulson), who tries to convince them all that what they think of as almost supernatural abilities can easily be explained away by science and the ways the mind deals with trauma, being the creation and adherence to a delusional worldview in order to avoid the sad reality that the rest of us live with.
That’s…not a completely horrible premise. I mean, it’s inane, to an extent, because Mr Glass never said he was a supervillain, and we saw all the actions of the other characters in their other films which clearly posit them as something other than regular human jerks. Plus Glass’s entire point is to explain to the characters that everything they can do ties in to both comic books and the fact that comic books are a way of telling the story of the extraordinary people that pop up in the human gene pool, who can do fascinating things that aren’t readily explainable.
So we are, as are the characters, subjected to the usual psych institution torments and the impassioned yet clinical arguments of the doctor that we know no-one believes, especially the characters, but especially the doctor. There’s too much ready evidence that these people are anything but normal. James McAvoy makes a whole bunch of personalities distinct and memorable and believable, to the point where he probably deserved to pick up 23 separate but equal paychecks. Bruce Willis wakes up briefly in his late career and delivers a decent performance again after decades of sleepwalking. Samuel L. Jackson restrains himself from eating or dry humping the scenery with his constant overacting. All three examples are profound evidence that something supernatural is going on.
And then, then there’s the big reveal. The Shyamalan Reveal. The Twist so awful it makes you regret pressing play or sitting down in the theatre in the first place. And yes, because this film can’t be talked about effectively without being spoiled, I am unusually happy to spoil this supreme bit of idiocy.
Actually, no, it’s not even the twist that made me guffaw with deflected shame that really matters; it’s the way in which they (being Shyamalan) choose to let us in on the secret, or should that be The Secret! It’s not even the revelation that there’s a secret cabal of people whose purpose in life it is to keep humanity down by eradicating anyone with extraordinary abilities or those who try to do good in the world and who fight evil. We already have that in this world, and it’s known as all the right-wing conservative parties or political structures in every country in existence whose sacred duty it has always been to keep the masses down. They, along with most of the various religions have been doing that since before the Roman Empire, and they’re doing an even greater job of it nowadays, thanks to technology and late-stage capitalism. And I thank you for your efforts, and we Love the Leaders.
That’s not a problem. But this incredibly dumb secret society gets together in the most inane way you can possibly imagine. No, try harder, and imagine something even dumber and you still won’t get there: when they meet, it’s in public, in popular restaurants, and then only talk about their meeting agenda items when people who don’t have their fairly distinctive tattoo leave the restaurant. Can you imagine anything more frustrating? Can you imagine anything more pointless? Why not just have the meeting in a room where no-one, include people who just walk in off the street or who also have reservations, CAN’T GET IN? Like, rent a church hall or use a conference room or do literally anything else, like stand in a field, anything would literally be easier and more secretive than this. What if, and I’m just thinking really hard about this, what if someone else walks into the restaurant wanting a meal, or there’s a new member of staff or dishpig or something: Do you hold off on having your super-secret meetings until they finish their desserts or, I dunno, why not lock the goddamn door or something. Or would that be too suspicious?
Oh my, it’s all so Shyamalanesque – something so dumb you can’t believe he went ahead with it and that you saw it with your own eyes, like an alien race that invades a planet that is covered in four-fifths water, which they must have been able to see in their fancy spaceships when they flew here, only to discover that water is their one weakness. And let’s not even get into a secret society that all have a distinctive wrist tattoo of a three-leafed clover, as if taunting people with how oh so secret their secret society is, as if it wouldn’t be noticeable if you were one of these other clueless diners who notices something weird, like everyone ceasing to talk, the moment you leave or enter the room.
The real, real twist is meant to be that Mr Glass, who doesn’t speak for the first hour, is actually not that catatonic, and is actually trying to organise either a battle at Osaka Tower / Nakatomi Plaza between The Overseer and The Beast / The Horde, or is aware of this not-so-secret secret society which is trying to convince them they don’t exist and wants to reveal them to the world.
Because these three superhumans (not really) are usually pretty helpless because of steps the psych facility has taken, except when it’s no longer plot convenient for them to be helpless any longer, they each need a surrogate, a stand-in, a witness to their struggle. For the Overseer, it’s his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark, reprising the same role from Unbreakable), who’s been helping his dad fight crime and save cheerleaders for years. For Mr Glass, it’s his mum, who also knows her comic books lore, and who by my calculation would have to be 143. She is also, ironically enough, played by Charlayne Woodard, also reprising her role from Unbreakable as Elijah’s mum, and is five years younger than Samuel L. Jackson. That’s the real mystery Shyamalan has to solve in the next flick, how the son can be older than the mother.
The third and most thankless of the witnesses is Casey (Anja Joy-Taylor), there to represent the serial killer who had one personality that saved her when all the others wanted to offer her up as a sacrifice to The Beast (I can’t explain it and I’m not going to bother), but, this being the weird film that it is, and the strength of McAvoy’s characterisation differentiating the personalities being what it is, it’s oddly believable. But Casey doesn’t really have anything to do in the flick other than have sweaty nerds mansplain comic archetypes to her, as she smiles politely and looks for an exit strategy. The best/worst of these moments is when she’s making enquiries at a comic book shop, again the one from the first film, and the same Comic Book Guy enthusiastically mansplains to her with passion, until she shows that she’s only interested in the comic books, and isn’t looking for romance with someone rendered incapable of romance by decades of comic book abuse. The look of disappointment on his face was priceless, priceless I say. Plus eww, you're old enough to be her grandma's stalker, stop it.
Look, I’ve written far more than this deserves already. The ending is straight flat out fucking dumb, but you really can’t expect anything else from Shyamalan. He has an almost supernatural or autistic disregard for the intellects of others, and will only ever go on doing his own thing, and he will continue being rewarded for it as if he’s someone with a surname that ends in Trump or Kardashian instead of Shyamalan. I don’t actually wish him harm, or anyone else involved in the production, or indeed the world, but honestly, who the fuck are you trying to kid?
This is hilarious camp stuff played as serious, down to earth, ‘cerebral’ bullshit, and then re-elevated again as if he thinks he invented the antidote to the Marvel monolith that monsters the motorway of its own creation, and hopefully they never get so cynical that they joke-hire him to direct one of their future movies. That would be too cruel a twist for any of us.
5 times Dora the Explorer has more convincing mysteries and villains than this bullshit out of 10
“I understand that the three of you think you are superhuman. That you don't think you are normal. You've convinced yourselves you have extraordinary gifts, like something out of a comic book. I am here to discuss the possibility that you are mistaken.” – and here I am agreeing with you – Glass.