Glass review

GLASS

Director : M. Night Shyamalan
Cast : James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard
Genre : Thriller/ horror
Run Time : 2 h 9 mins
Opens : 17 January 2019
Rating : PG13

Every studio wants a cinematic universe. M. Night Shyamalan sprung a surprise on viewers, as is his wont, with the reveal at the end of 2017’s Split that the film took place in the same shared universe as 2000’s Unbreakable. The ‘Eastrail #177 trilogy’ culminates with Glass.

Kevin Crumb/The Horde (James McAvoy), a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder who harbours 24 distinct personalities including the animalistic Beast, is still at large after the events of Split. When the vigilante David Dunn/The Overseer (Bruce Willis) attempts to capture Kevin, both are inadvertently caught and placed in Raven Hill Memorial Hospital. At the hospital, Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), believing Kevin and David to have delusions of grandeur, attempts to rehabilitate them. She has a third patient: Elijah Price/Mr Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), a self-styled supervillain and former comic book gallery owner with brittle bone disease.

Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), a girl who was captured by Kevin but let go; David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) and Elijah’s mother Mrs Price (Charlayne Woodard) band together to discover the truth behind what afflicts the three characters. Dr Staple is convinced that there are rational, non-fantastical explanations for the ‘powers’ manifested by Kevin, David and Elijah, despite appearances to the contrary. Elijah, who has been feigning catatonia the whole time, hatches a plan of escape, a plan that involves both Kevin and David. The stage for a showdown between two supervillains and a superhero is set.

At the time of Unbreakable’s release, the comic book movie boom was still around a decade away. General audiences were not yet as well-versed in the tropes of comic book storytelling as they are today, so now seems like a good time to release a follow-up to Unbreakable. Unfortunately, Glass squanders this opportunity, winding up as a colossal disappointment that seems to get in its own way at every conceivable turn.

It’s a shame because Glass isn’t a mess from the outset: we see the glimmers of potential, then watch as they are dulled, until the film seems like a big smear. The movie sets up a dynamic clash between three fascinating characters, but they feel like shadows of the people we met in earlier films. McAvoy is more annoying than unsettling as Kevin, Willis’ David is straight-up boring, and Jackson’s portrayal of a conniving mastermind is serviceable but nothing captivating.

Shyamalan gets a few pleasingly tense moments in but is unable to sustain the viewers’ attention. The film feels hemmed in by its mental hospital setting, promising a set-piece finale that winds up severely underwhelming. This undercuts the promise of a grand, explosive conclusion to the trilogy. The dialogue is unbearably clunky in spots, with Shyamalan struggling to weave in references to story arcs and devices commonly found in comic books. His trademark cameo is also entirely awkward.

Split deservedly drew flack for its use of mental illness to signal life-threatening villainy. This reviewer’s friend compared it to a Universal Monsters film, except Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy aren’t real and Dissociative Identity Disorder is a real thing. While McAvoy sinks his teeth into the challenging role, the hints of hammy over-acting in Split have all come to the surface. As a result, Kevin is never truly scary and is sometimes unintentionally funny, and it just blends into a mass of silly voices.

While it is nice to see Willis back as David Dunn and there’s also strong continuity in seeing Spencer Treat Clark reprise his role as David’s son Joseph, the character just isn’t that interesting. Perhaps it’s a side effect of how Willis has spent much of his recent career sleep-walking through many direct-to-DVD action movies. The sense of inner turmoil and the compelling nature of an ordinary man coming to terms with extraordinary gifts drew audiences to David in Unbreakable, but here, Willis just shuffles along.

Samuel L. Jackson was by no means an unknown in 2000, but now he’s just ubiquitous, and perhaps that takes away some of Elijah Price’s mystique. The character’s gimmick, that he was a self-styled supervillain, seemed novel when Unbreakable was released, but Glass does surprisingly little with it. While there’s an attempt to flesh out the relationship between Elijah and his mother, with Charlayne Woodard delivering a heartfelt performance, it seems rote rather than adding to the mythos.

Sarah Paulson is typically reliable, but seems unnatural and stiff, hamstrung by sub-par material. Anya Taylor-Joy puts her very emotive eyes to great use as Casey, but the character’s bond to Kevin feels forced, even coming off Split.

There was every opportunity for Glass to be an original, unorthodox, engaging exploration of what it means to be a hero or a villain, and of the implications of superpowers being real. Just when he seemed on the verge of a credible comeback, Shyamalan blows it with an excruciatingly clumsy movie that breaks every promise of a thrilling threequel hinted at before.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Split

For F*** Magazine

SPLIT 

Director : M. Night Shyamalam
Cast : James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson, Brad William Henke, Neal Huff
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1h 56min
Opens : 19 January 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Mature Content And Violence)

split-posterThe X-Mansion is crowded enough as it is, what with all those gifted youngsters, but imagine if there were 24 Professor X-es running about the place. In this psychological thriller, James McAvoy plays Kevin Crumb, a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Kevin has 23 distinct personalities or ‘alters’, including a young boy named Hedwig, a flamboyant fashion designer named Barry, schoolmistress-type Miss Patricia and the severe, obsessive Dennis. Kevin kidnaps Casey (Taylor-Joy), Marcia (Sula) and Claire (Richardson) in broad daylight as they are leaving Claire’s birthday party. Casey, a social outcast at school, attempts to decipher Kevin’s behaviour and plot an escape for the three girls. In the meantime, Kevin’s therapist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Buckley) suspects that something is amiss with her patient, but is unaware of his criminal activities. The various alters ominously warn that a 24th personality, named ‘the Beast’, is about to emerge.

Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has busied himself with paving a path towards redemption. With a string of high-profile missteps, the once-lauded auteur who was heralded as the next Hitchcock or Spielberg quickly became a laughing-stock. With 2015’s The Visit, Shyamalan returned to lo-fi suspense horror, and he re-teams with producer Jason Blum for Split. While nowhere near as embarrassing or inept as The Happening and Lady in the Water, Split is problematic.

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First, the good: the film is often tense and creepy and with McAvoy firing on all cylinders, is largely engaging. The bad: Split takes advantage of how controversial and misunderstood Dissociative Identity Disorder is, playing up many misconceptions and potentially demonising the mentally ill. Sure, this is fiction and many viewers won’t take offence because it isn’t intended to reflect reality, but it reminds us of horror movies in which physical deformity is used to signify that someone is evil. Nobody is going to walk into Split searching for clinical accuracy, but it seems lazy of Shyamalan to use mental illness as a plot device in this way.

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Joaquin Phoenix was originally cast in the role and Split would’ve reunited Phoenix with his Signs director. McAvoy is fully committed to the challenging part, but have a feeling that Phoenix would’ve been significantly more menacing in the role. McAvoy is creepy enough, but is also goofy. This performance can be viewed as little more than a string of funny voices and exaggerated mannerisms. It’s a valiant effort and however tasteless the premise, we will admit that the concept of a movie villain who unpredictably manifests multiple personalities is unsettling and potentially compelling.

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Taylor-Joy, the breakout star of The Witch, is haunting and mesmerising as Casey. A misfit with a dark past, Casey gets character development by way of flashbacks which show her hunting with her father and uncle. When it’s ultimately revealed, her back-story turns out to be clichéd and emotionally manipulative. The most interesting bits of the film are Casey’s attempts to get into Kevin’s head and to play his alters against each other. Alas, there’s not nearly enough of that. Despite Shyamalan’s effort to give Casey an air of mystery, she ends up embodying many recognisable horror movie heroine tropes, right down to being pursued through a basement by, for all intents and purposes, a slasher film villain.

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To throw Casey into sharper relief, both Marcia and Claire are given very little character development and fade into the background. We also have to endure stretches of dialogue, with which Shyamalan demonstrates how he thinks teenage girls talk. Buckley’s psychiatrist character, a well-meaning elderly woman who finds herself in over her head, seems intended to give the film’s portrayal of mental illness a modicum of credibility. However, Dr. Fletcher amounts to little more than yet another plot device. At least it’s more dignified than her role as the creepy lady in The Happening who demanded to know why Mark Wahlberg was eyeing her lemon drink.

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Many critics are praising Split as a return to form for Shyamalan, but we’re not so convinced. For all its atmospherics and McAvoy’s wild lead performance, Split is about someone who kidnaps (maybe kills?) young women because he has a mental illness, extrapolating this premise into B-movie horror hijinks. It’s not the first movie to demonstrate a misunderstanding of mental illness, nor will it be the last. If that’s something you can overlook, Split has its thrilling and entertaining moments. In lieu of a big Shyamalan signature twist, Split serves up a surprise connection to an earlier film in his oeuvre (hint: it’s not The Last Airbender).

Summary: Split gives James McAvoy a meaty, showy role, but that doesn’t diminish how tasteless it is to play mental illness for scares. Still, Shyamalan should continue down this path of smaller-scale, performance-driven thrillers.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong