Setting aside the often unbearable pacing of Glass, one-time wunderkind M Night Shyamalan's followup to Unbreakable and Split, there's one glaring problematic issue at play that needs mentioning: the indelicate portrayal of mental illness. Now, we're not saying that movies shouldn't examine such things, nor do we believe it's necessary for them to portray those grappling with such issues in an unyieldingly positive light—but the moral here, if there is one, seems almost to be that the mentally ill are over-the-top crazies who are probably going to kill people.
Glass is ultimately a sequel to 2016's Split, the James McAvoy-led thriller about a man named Kevin suffering from dissociative identity disorder who, in the wake of childhood abuse, develops a violent personality called The Beast that runs roughshod over the rest of his internal personalities causing him to commit heinous crimes. Here, however, Shyamalan has added the threads from 2000's Unbreakable—namely that that movie's villain Elijah/Mr. Glass (Samuel L Jackson) has been imprisoned for his own crimes carried out while in search of extraordinary humans with extraordinary abilities, of which Bruce Willis' character David Dunn is one.
Woof, that's a lot; and we haven't even thrown in American Horror Story's consummate over-actor Sarah Paulson into the mix as a psychiatrist specializing in disorders that find people believing they are superheroes. Thus, Mr. Glass, Kevin and David are thrust together into treatment and left to ponder whether they're actually super or simply suffering from trauma that caused them to shape their own bizarre narratives rooted in fantasy and comic books.
Jackson, as always, is fantastic and portrays Elijah's cold and calculating nature in an eerily sympathetic way. McAvoy hits some very high notes when the writing allows for his various personalities to prove distinct enough from one another, but the vast majority of his performance can be distilled into how he does different accents. The Beast is at turns truly frightening and rather silly, though it does settle into the latter by the film's end. Willis' David—whom the film goes so far as to straight-up identify as the reluctant hero archetype—feels every bit as vexing as in the original film, though not in the best ways. His unfeeling tone that we're supposed to interpret as some sort of facade for dealing with pain feels more like shoddy development than it does a statement on the strong and silent type.
Still, certain twists and turns recall the faintest whispers of Shyamalan's once-formidable Hitchcockian powers, even if he didn't ever get the less-is-more in the cameo department memo; Glass thrills once or twice in unexpected ways. But then it's back to long-winded monologues, overly dramatic thoughts on the human condition and—one of Shyamalan's biggest weaknesses—the over-explanation of plot. We don't need to be beaten over the head with reminders about foreshadowing! We'd much prefer, in fact, to be trusted as audiences to follow along and understand.
And it's a shame, because when he wasn't overindulging in symbolic camera angles or "Don't forget that one thing!" dialogue, Shyamalan came perilously close to helping us get lost in Glass' starkly beautiful cinematography and characters. But we never forget it's a movie we're watching in a theater, no matter how badly we want to believe it could have been something super.
+Sometimes thrilling; killer cinematography
-Sparse understanding of mental illness; over-explanation
Directed by Shyamalan
With Willis, McAvoy, Jackson and Paulson
Violet Crown, Regal, PG-13, 129 min.