It’s all very well having an idiosyncratic style, be it through quirky dialogue, a distinct visual language, or repeat casting of the same actors. But with the success of The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan shot himself in the foot. Now, each of his films revolves around ‘The Twist’ – you’ll spend as much time second-guessing his films as you do enjoying them. With Glass, although visually impressive in IMAX, it is no different. 

Firstly, this film is quintessential Shyamalan. Not only in its presentation, but in that it brings together the worlds of two of his previous films: Unbreakabale (2000) and Split (2016) in a sequel that’s cleverly tacked on. It sees the return of some of his favourite actors – Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson, James McAvoy, Spencer Treat Clark – with a similar guessing-game plot and a horror-thriller style in which he takes his own hokum far too seriously.

There’s little exposition; instead, you’re expected to be familiar with the previous two films. Thematically, Glass continues Shyamalan’s exploration of the superhero genre. Bruce Willis reprises his role as David Dunn, a man with apparent super powers who’s seeking to rescue a group of cheerleaders being held captive by a man with split personalities known collectively as The Horde (James McAvoy). Soon they’re both held in a mental asylum along with nemesis Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson) where, through a stream of short scenes that each give away little titbits of information, we’re asked to question whether these men really do have superpowers or if it’s just a delusion.

Where most superhero films are full of all-out action, this is quiet and contemplative – it’s Shyamalan after all. But setting it in a typically creepy asylum adds a trite element of pop psychology as the men relive their past traumas in a vain effort to uncover the truth. The pace is slow and the writer/director expects us to suspend our disbelief on multiple occasions, but there’s still enough intrigue here to keep us hooked.

 

Glass Miro Review (Credit Universal Pictures)

Sarah Paulson in Glass

 

The setting isn’t the only comic book stereotype. In fact, Glass is riddled with them – though that’s somewhat the point. This is Shyamalan dissecting the genre, at one point drolly labelling his characters as ‘the brains’, ‘the anarchist’ and ‘the reluctant hero’. Yet pointing out the stereotypes yourself doesn’t negate you from the fact you’re still relying on them. The horror styling – all stark lighting and spooky sound design – keeps you on the edge of your seat, but it’s all too familiar and predictable.

McAvoy is exceptional as The Horde. It’s an accomplished and wonderfully unstable performance, where each personality is distinct but you never know which you’ll see next. It certainly makes for a compelling villain, even if it doesn’t rectify criticisms of Split and its stigmatising of mental health. Elsewhere, Willis broods while Sarah Paulson holds the film together as the psychologist tasked with treating these three patients. Jackson mostly stares into space.

When the big twist finally does come, it falls flat in a denouement that flip-flops absurdly. The message of humans doing superhuman feats is a powerful one, but the final scenes lay on the schmaltz thick and heavy. It’s yet more proof that Shyamalan is over-reliant on the comic book stereotypes he otherwise smartly aims to distort.

Verdict: ★ ★ ★