Fickle, hokey, silly; all the things it shouldn’t have been.
M. Night Shyamalan’s tenure saw a downward spiral through the beginning of the millennium; from confident, sublime genre pieces like The Sixth
David Dunn (Willis) now runs his own home security store while moonlighting as a brutal vigilante in a green poncho, now referred to as “The Overseer” online. After tracking down and subsequently tussling with Kevin (McAvoy), the pair are placed in Raven Hill, a psychiatric hospital. Supervising and studying them is Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a doctor who specialises “in a very particular illusion of grandeur… those who believe they are superheroes”. They’re not alone though; also under Staple’s care is a heavily sedated Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). As the trio grow wary of their situation, plans are put in place for some orchestrated chaos.
Unbreakable deconstructed its own genre before the superhero boom happened. It was slow,
Visually we’re back in Split territory (with cinematographer Mike Gioulakis returning), the camera whipping round scenes with a more dynamic energy as Kevin scales the walls and limbs along pipes. Although there are gorgeous wide-zooms à la Unbreakable, as well as the use of lighting as a very effective tool. As the action gains momentum and scale though, the cracks reveal themselves; a claustrophobic shooting style takes viewers out of the fight, with one too many close-ups of Willis as he’s being bear-hugged. Seeing these characters go to war in a large, open playground is epic in its own right, but the propulsive choreography simply isn’t there to take enjoyment beyond appreciating the idea.
From a bracing opening, things slow right down for most of the film, as Paulson’s character monologues endlessly and dissects each character’s delusion with a tantalising, genteel stare. But the dialogue’s impact dries up fast and as it becomes a rinse-and-repeat job. Willis’ everyday man take holds some
There are some attractive flourishes; the mental game of cat-and-mouse between David and Kevin’s ego produces some invigorating little moments (helped hugely by West Dylan Thordson’s nerve-shreddingly screeching composition) and a distressing flashback scene on a fair ride will have you covering your eyes. But the screenplay is a tonal and logical shambles, spending too long setting up and discussing things that never happen and discussing the formerly delicate intricacies of comic mythology to the point where it all feels contrived and pointless. Shyamalan’s strengths have always been in raw storytelling, emoting through the moving image rather than dialogue – this, sadly, is some of his worst writing in years. The twisty-turny journey to get to the credits feels like a reflection on his own career; some of his trademark revelations are engraved in cinematic legend, others are just plain daft. Glass‘ final reveal(s) fall into the latter category; confounding and carrying as much dramatic strength as Elijah’s legs.
Shyamalan’s final entry in his unlikely cinematic universe is a Split sequel with Unbreakable filling; but what’s the point if none of it makes sense?
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm