M. Night Shyamalan’s Sequel to Unbreakable is Worth the Wait!
DIRECTED BY: M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN/2019
After 19 years, and the surprise tie-in to 2016’s Split, we finally have gotten the long awaited sequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s sophomore film Unbreakable, with what is now the third film in the series, called Glass. For the uninitiated, M. Night Shyamalan is known for his famous plot twists and even had theaters who were showing advanced screenings of Glass display his open letter to fans, prior to the screening, where he urged fans to keep the details of Glass a secret so that everyone could go into the film and have an experience not ruined by the information superhighway. In the spirit of that plea, you can rest assured that I will not, in any way, give away anything that might ruin the experience. If you have been waiting 19 years to see the continuing story of David Dunn and Elijah Price, you deserve to experience it all unencumbered. Before that….a little back story.
In Unbreakable, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) was on a train from New York to Philadelphia when the train car jumps the tracks and collides with another train, killing all on board. David, however, emerges without even a single scratch. Strange as that may be, enter Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who challenges David to think about his past. As he uses the tropes he has learned from comic books to explain to David how he believes David is “unbreakable”, he asks if David ever remembers being sick, and other such questions. As David considers Elijah’s surprising explanation for his survival, and as Elijah helps David foster his gift of being able to see the evil being done by individuals whom he comes in physical contact with, it is David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) who begins to believe that his father might just be a Superhero.
What worked so well for Unbreakable was the slow building realization that the film was actually a Superhero origin story, albeit one admittedly rooted in the real world. The more fantastical abilities exhibited by popular comics, Elijah tells us, are really just myths and legends that are ultimately rooted in science and fact. This doesn’t make the core essence of it all any less true. As David, and we the audience, began to believe that there might be something to all of this, David’s abilities began to grow, and we saw the sinister nature of Elijah Price, who was the complete opposite of David Dunn.
If David Dunn was truly “unbreakable”, how fitting that his soon to be arch-enemy was completely “breakable”. Elijah suffered from a rare condition that gave him brittle bones. The slightest fall or bump could break bones. This is where he earns the name “Mr. Glass”. His ability isn’t his strength but rather his genius intellect and understanding of human nature and how that allows him to manipulate others to unknowingly collaborate in his elaborate schemes simply through suggestion, cunning, and patience.
Unbreakable set us up for the sequel, but alas it never came. Shyamalan seemed to go into a tailspin creatively suffering box office ridicule with projects like Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. For the man who was once called the next Steven Spielberg, now people were wondering if he’d ever recover to be half of the director he once was when turning out box office gold beginning with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and even the somewhat controversial The Village.
This creative low point brought him into contact with Blumhouse Productions, and owner Jason Blum. A smaller company who focused on keeping very small budgets on projects that were marketed to make profit opening weekend, they saw huge returns with projects like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Sinister. They partnered with Shyamalan to deliver a sort of comedy horror film called The Visit. With just a $5 million dollar budget, it grossed $98.5 million at the box office. Shyamalan finally had another hit, and his next project would be another thriller called Split.
Split centered around Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.), with some 23 reported personalities. He is also responsible for kidnapping teen girls, holding them captive in underground buildings at the Philadelphia Zoo, where they are told they will be offered to “the Beast”, his undocumented 24th personality. The ‘final girl’ in Split is Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), a girl in foster-care who has already seen her share of trauma, enduring horrific things at the hands of her uncle when she was just a child. Despite being kidnapped by Kevin, she is able to empathize with him, and his throng of personalities that are collectively called “The Horde”.
Following a narrow escape, and massive news coverage of her rescue, the film comes to a conclusion. M. Night Shyamalan, however, had one of his old plot twists up his sleeve. Just before the credits rolled, we see people in a diner eating and watching the news coverage. Someone remarks about Kevin reminding them about another guy years ago. The camera pans to show us David Dunn (Willis) eating and filling in the name that has escaped the diner patron’s memory, that of Elijah Price, a.k.a. Mr. Glass.
Glass is the true test of whether M. Night Shyamalan is truly back to his classic, creative peak. Split had a budget of $9 million, but found $278.5 million reasons for Blumhouse to let Shyamalan make his sequel to Split be his long-desired sequel to Unbreakable as well (with some agreements from Disney who released Unbreakable in 2000). The big question is of course going to be: Is Glass worth the 19-year wait? The answer is largely an emphatic “yes”!
Tonally, Glass is more like Unbreakable than Split. For me, this was a great thing. There is the return of the mystery of this comic-book related world, that has a slow-building reveal that feels earned. As seen in the trailers for the film, David Dunn and Kevin Wendell Crumb find themselves in a psychiatric hospital alongside Elijah Price. The three of them are placed together under the care of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a doctor who specializes in the treatment of individuals who believe themselves to have special powers and abilities. This institutional setting keeps things close-knit, and centered and helps dive deeper into the world we first learned of in Unbreakable.
The true magic of this story is how M. Night Shyamalan was able to bring Split, a more modern-day suspense film, back into the world of Unbreakable, and not be tempted to go the opposite way where the push would be to make everything bigger, better, faster. For fans of Split, who were too young to know about or have never seen Unbreakable, the slower, more methodical pacing of the film might jar them a bit. Enough backstory is provided to catch them up on the 19-year old film, but Shyamalan really rewards fans of Unbreakable with lots of call-backs, easter eggs, and even through his own usual cameo. He even made sure to use the original actors of Unbreakable such as David’s son Joseph, again being played by Spencer Treat Clark, and Charlayne Woodard returning as Elijah’s mother.
Needless to say, M. Night Shyamalan truly loves this comic-based world that he has created, and has been waiting 19 years for the chance to continue it where we could once again see Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson square off. The script is one of the best he has had in years, and the time waiting for this opportunity has allowed him to craft a more layered world, and demonstrate his old flourishes for plot twists.
Jackson and McAvoy give great performances all-around, with McAvoy truly doing some heavy lifting. Shyamalan has said that McAvoy did about 8 of the 24 personalities that Kevin has in Split. For Glass, he was asked to take on 20. Paulson is also great as the psychiatrist who brings these three together, playing a great complementary piece to the characters of Glass, Dunn, and Crumb, serving a pivotal role in pulling off this unlikely trilogy’s story.
The Visit and Split were signals that Shyamalan was working his way back creatively from the depths to which it was believed he had fallen. Glass is the film that signals that he has finally, and fully, returned. Though there will be plenty for some to take issue with, Glass knows exactly what type of movie it is trying to be and delivers exactly that, allowing itself to have a lot of fun along the way.