M. Night Shyamalan has come full circle over the last 20 years. He was an instant success with The Sixth Sense, a solid box office machine with Unbreakable and Signs, a Hollywood in-joke after The Village, then poison for a decade with horrible film after horrible film. Then he started to evolve and get his mojo back with The Visit, and was wholly back in the audience’s good graces with Split two years ago.
But even then, old habits die hard, and his trademark use of ending his movies with plot twists of varying degrees of cleverness worked its way into his resurgent success. The big twist of Split? It existed in the same universe as Unbreakable, with a tag scene featuring Bruce Willis as David Dunn referencing Elijah Price, aka Mr. Glass.
Apparently it was his intention to have Split‘s villain, Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), be a part of Unbreakable from the very beginning, but cut the character during the writing process. It was then intended to be a much more immediate sequel, but he couldn’t secure funding. So absence made Shyamalan’s heart grow fonder, and after the initial shortfall we got an amazing bit of suspense with an incredible antagonist character, and this time the studios didn’t balk, allowing him to close out this semi-intentional trilogy with Glass, uniting all three characters for an ultimate showdown.
Set three months after Split, the city of Philadelphia is set to unveil the new Osaka tower, making it the new tallest building in town. It’s little more than a CG-Eyesore of a MacGuffin – and of course it evokes Nakatomi Plaza from Die Hard with Bruce Willis’ presence – but it helps to set the events of the film in motion. Crumb and his Horde, including “The Beast,” are still loose, kidnapping young girls so the impure can learn what true suffering is. At the start of the film, he has four cheerleaders chained up in an abandoned warehouse. Meanwhile, David Dunn, clad in a poncho, is hunting for him as a vigilante, with the press settling on “The Overseer” as his hero name, working with his son (Spencer Treat Clark) in a home security shop as a front for their crimefighting.
Using his super power of touch, Dunn makes contact with Crumb as his nine-year-old personality Hedwig, which leads him to the girls. After a fight, the girls are freed, but both Dunn and Crumb are captured by SWAT teams under the direction of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist who specializes in treating delusional people who think they have superhuman abilities. I immediately call bullshit on such a specialty even existing, but I can let it slide for the purpose of suspending disbelief.
What I can’t let slide are her methods. Less a psychological foil and more of a low-rent Nurse Ratched, Staple takes Dunn and Crumb to an asylum where she locks them in specially-fitted rooms with devices to counter their skills and do little more than torture them. Also, as it happens, Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) is in the same facility. In Kevin’s room, a lighting rig is set up to trigger a personality change whenever he becomes aggressive. David has sprinklers set up to flood his room, as Dunn’s weakness is water. For the highly intellectual Mr. Glass, heavy sedation to the point of catatonia. She says she wishes for her “patients” to confront their delusions, but she takes active steps to weaken them on their terms, which is either an acknowledgement of their power, or placating those delusions. Hell, in the long-awaited meeting of all three parties, it’s Dunn – a good guy – who is chained to the floor, rather than the two murderers sitting next to him. About the only thing she does that would seem in any way therapeutic is to allow Glass’ mother (Charlayne Woodard) and Split‘s lone survivor Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) to visit and talk to Glass and Kevin, respectively, in an attempt to ground them in the real world.
It all doesn’t matter, though, as Glass is always a few steps ahead and way smarter than the rest of the room. As such, he’s already developed a plan to set everyone free and commit a terrorist attack on the new Osaka tower, setting up a showdown between The Beast and The Overseer as a grand Coming Out Party to show the world their powers. Sadly, this makes the film’s two major twists really predictable, but the execution is still a fun ride.
Also, it has to be said, all three lead performances are solid. Bruce Willis brings a needed weariness to Dunn, and even though he spends half the film looking like he’s in a waking coma, Jackson’s ability to turn everything on a dime is one of the reasons he was at one point the most profitable actor in Hollywood. And then there’s McAvoy, still bringing that manic glee to Kevin’s multiple personalities, every one distinct, every one an amazing piece of acting. And it’s not just the mannerisms of the disparate identities, but the physicality with which McAvoy alters his own posture and body movements to match that really makes it shine! Sure there are some makeup effects involved, but he really does seem to transform when he changes personalities.
The film most definitely has its flaws. The pacing is a bit off in places, the dialogue is clunky, and the comic book analogies, while apt, grew a bit tiresome by the end. Also, as much as I like Shyamalan as a filmmaker overall, Alfred Hitchcock he is not. So stop with the damn cameos already!
Is this a grand conclusion to a great movie trilogy? No. But it has a lot of camp value, and is just fun from a popcorn perspective, with three lead performances that really sell the concept. This won’t go down as some pantheon entry, but it’s a good bit of enjoyment, and will likely be the best movie we get to see before at least next month. Still, you might do better waiting until it comes out on DVD rather than shelling out the money to see it now.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What’s your favorite Shyamalan movie? How many times do you have to look up how to spell his name? Let me know!