At the very end of Split, released in 2016, M. Night Shyamalan – to whom we also owe the incredibly striking Unbreakable – reveals a twist that made fans’ heart jump with excitement. It turns out that multi-personality serial killer Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), nicknamed ‘The Hoard’, belongs within the same cinematic universe as superhero David Dunn (Bruce Willis), ‘The Green Guard’ with a rain poncho. Naturally, masses couldn’t wait for both to literally bump shoulders, overseen from afar by ultimate yet fragile supervillain Elijah Price, also known as Mr Glass (Samuel L. Jackson).
Combining the two previous Philadelphia-based narratives into one, respectively a drama about identity and a thriller slash horror-oriented film, and gathering the leads in the same frame, Glass appears to be the coda of this unexpected trilogy. In it, ‘The Hoard’ strikes again, holding four teenage girls hostage. But not on David Dunn’s watch, who well intends to rescue them. And for that, he can count on his now adult son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), a reliable sidekick giving directions and advice via earpiece. On the verge of a confrontation, both Crumb and Dunn end up arrested then dragged to a psychiatric unit (in which Mr Glass is also imprisoned for acts of terrorism). There, Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) vows to cure her three patients, and the audience simultaneously, from any delusional belief.
But this smokescreen of induced doubt, that never fully blurs our vision, only generates frustration. It is clear that intense close-ups and long speeches, meant to discredit these super-powered individuals, are a reflection on the idea of inner strength in disguise. The problem is, we’ve spent so much time following the characters in Unbreakable then Split, that undermining our faith is Mission Impossible. M. Night Shyamalan’s underlying moral thus decreases in efficacy. From then, we long for direct face-to-face encounters, when all leads are tragically locked in separate cells, each one contained by personalised torture tricks (a shame when both Jackson’s Mr Glass and McAvoy’s Hoard seem to be ready to bite). And when the gang finally meets again, the spotlight is wrested from them whilst the camera’s attention is drawn to Dr Staple’s analysis instead. In that sense, Glass struggles to maintain the suspense despite a promising opening.
But even so, Glass is bold and surprisingly silly, in a good way. The character of Kevin Crumb, and his 24 personalities, remains terrifying although a new side is unveiled. He is genuinely fun to watch at times. Once again, James McAvoy gives a standout performance, switching flawlessly between emotions and voices, from the superhuman Beast to creepy Miss Patricia by way of very unpredictable Hedwig. Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey Cook also deserves a nod, as we get to explore in depth the bond she shares with Crumb, her prior kidnapper. In her arms, ‘The Hoard’ looks strangely pacified. When it comes to sworn enemies, Mr Glass versus David Dunn, both Jackson and Willis brilliantly fit right back into their older roles, although slightly overshadowed by Split’s star.
19 years after Unbreakable, Shyamalan closes the loop and delivers a noteworthy handcrafted comic book mythology that will be remembered for its early days of glory, despite the trilogy ending on a decrescendo. And although the film doesn’t quite reach the expectations for the highly anticipated grand finale, it offers entertaining sequences that keep the audience on tenterhooks. Somehow, the very cracked Glass resists the fall and remains miraculously in one piece.
By Marie-Célia Cannenpasse
Marie-Célia is from a French Caribbean island, and currently studying applied foreign languages at Sorbonne University in Paris, whilst taking filmmaking courses online. She enjoys listening to soundtracks curled up under a comfy duvet on rainy days, gushing about Kate Winslet or Christian Bale on a daily basis, and crying over the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace. Her favourite films include Gone with the wind, Super 8, Call me by your name and The Prestige. You can find her on Twittter @MCeliaCR and on letterboxd too @MCeliaCR.