In his latest thriller, “Glass,” writer-director M. Night Shyamalan strip-mines the good parts from his best movie, “Unbreakable,” and the creepiest parts of his last movie, “Split,” with an ending that has more hard-to-swallow twists than a bag of stale pretzels.
And I wish I could have seen them.
Because of a family emergency — everybody’s fine, thanks for asking — I was summoned away from the screening of “Glass” with about 20 minutes left to go. I saw a couple of Shyamalan’s trademark plot twists before having to exit the theater, but I had a feeling that there were more that I missed.
I asked a colleague to fill me in and, sure enough, Shyamalan pulled the rug out from under everything that had gone before, in his perpetual quest to show he’s ever so clever, more clever than those snooty critics or dumb audiences.
Shyamalan begins by reintroducing David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the protagonist of his 2000 thriller “Unbreakable.” Dunn runs a security-equipment store with his son Joseph, again played by Spencer Treat Clark, now all grown up. (Robin Wright, who played David’s wife Audrey in the first film, is killed off as unceremoniously as Wright’s TV husband on “House of Cards.”) On the side they combat crime, with David patrolling the streets and Joseph as “the guy in the chair” monitoring police scanners and internet mentions of his dad’s anonymous vigilantism.
David is on the hunt for the serial killer introduced in “Split,” 24 personalities inside one body (played by James McAvoy), who was once someone named Kevin. Kevin, who terrorized high-school girls in the first movie, is up to it again here, until David decides to intervene.
Then Dr. Ellie Sample (Sarah Paulson) steps in.Dr. Sample is a psychiatrist whose specialty is people with a specific delusion of grandeur: They believe they have superpowers. Dr. Sample takes David and Beast into custody, with the help of many guards and a set of flashing lights that reset Kevin’s personality. (A title card before the movie begins warns anyone who has photosensitivity issues, like epilepsy, that the lights might affect them adversely.)
Dr. Sample places David and Kevin in a heavily fortified mental institution, where they meet the third supposedly super-endowed person: Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), the criminal mastermind who orchestrated David’s origin story in “Unbreakable.” Dr. Sample is out to prove to these three patients that they don’t have abilities beyond that of the average person — and that she can cure them of their superhero complexes.
OK, that’s about as far as I can go without getting into deep spoiler territory. It’s enough to say that Shyamalan takes an eternity getting the story to this point, as he drones on about comic books — a theme that began in “Unbreakable.”. It’s also important to note two more characters who play a hand in events: Glass’ mother (Charlayne Woodword), who visits her sedated son occasionally, and Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), the vengeance-seeking lone survivor of Kevin’s wrath in “Glass.”
What I saw, before I had to duck out, was a director trying to make an action movie without showing us the action. He does this numerous times, capturing a fight scene out-of-focus in the background or outside the area where something else is happening. It’s almost as if he’s a little embarrassed that he has to cater to his audience’s base need for cathartic violence. (He’s not too embarrassed to feature himself in a cameo that references his cameo in “Unbreakable.”)
Will I see the final 20 minutes of “Glass” someday? Probably. Like a White House banquet table laden with fast-food items, Shyamalan’s ending sounds like something that mere words can’t describe — but a travesty one has to see for oneself.
Opens Friday, January 18, in theaters everywhere. Rated PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language Running time: 129 minutes.