Shya­malan’s ‘Glass’ to con­clude un­likely tril­ogy

Fol­lows ‘Un­break­able’ and ‘Split’

The Star Democrat - - MOVIES - By GREG MAKI [email protected]­dem.com

WARN­ING: The fol­low­ing con­tains spoil­ers for the movies “Un­break­able” and “Split.”

It was about as closely guarded as any movie se­cret can be in this spoil­er­rich age.

Two years ago, writer-pro­ducer-direc­tor M. Night Shya­malan went ful­lon B-movie bonkers with his creepy mul­ti­ple-per­son­al­ity thriller “Split.” As en­ter­tain­ing as that movie was — due largely to James McAvoy’s fear­lessly ver­sa­tile lead per­for­mance — it was the fi­nal scene that most de­lighted the film­maker’s fans.

A se­cu­rity guard sits in a cafe, calmly drink­ing a cup of cof­fee while the news on TV re­ports on the grisly events de­picted ear­lier in the movie. But this isn’t just any se­cu­rity guard. He’s played by Bruce Wil­lis, and his name is David Dunn, un­seen on screen since dis­cov­er­ing his ab­nor­mal strength and near­in­vin­ci­bil­ity in Shya­malan’s 2000 film, “Un­break­able.” When a woman sit­ting next to him at the counter strug­gles to re­mem­ber what they called the guy in the wheel­chair who was locked away in a men­tal hospi­tal 15 years ear­lier, Dunn fills in the blank: “Mr. Glass,” con­firm­ing the two pic­tures’ shared uni­verse — the “Shya­malani­verse,” if you will.

It might have been just a fun stinger, a wink and a nod from the direc­tor to his long­time fans. Then “Split” grossed $278 mil­lion world­wide at the box of­fice — on a mi­nus­cule $9 mil­lion budget — and now the two films are set to col­lide in a shared se­quel, “Glass,” which hits the­aters Fri­day, Jan. 18.

‘UN­BREAK­ABLE’

Shya­malan laid much of the ground­work for the new movie in “Un­break­able,” which pre­saged the on­go­ing Hol­ly­wood su­per­hero boom when it was re­leased in 2000, the same year the X-Men de­buted on the big screen. Shya­malan was fol­low­ing the pre­vi­ous year’s phe­nom­e­non “The Sixth Sense,” which pulled in $672 mil­lion at the world­wide box of­fice, plus six Os­car nom­i­na­tions.

He es­sen­tially had free rein with his next film, and what he chose to make was quite pos­si­bly the qui­etest su­per­hero movie we’ve ever seen. Lack­ing en­tirely in dig­i­tal ef­fects and apoc­a­lypses to avert, “Un­break­able” fo­cuses ex­clu­sively on what is merely the first act of vir­tu­ally ev­ery other en­try in its genre — the ori­gin story. It asks a ques­tion sim­i­lar to that posed by “Watch­men” while an­swer­ing it in a very dif­fer­ent way: What would it be like if su­per­heroes ex­isted in the real world?

One man is con­vinced they’re among us, and he’s dead set on find­ing them. Eli­jah Price (Sa­muel L. Jack­son), a se­ri­ous-minded owner of a comic book store he treats as an art gallery, was cursed at birth with a frail body that has known a life­time of in­juries and sick­ness. He des­per­ately be­lieves there must be some­one in the world who is his op­po­site. When David Dunn is the lone sur­vivor of a train crash that kills more than 100 and later con­firms he’s never been sick or in­jured, he has his man.

Re­luc­tant at first, David even­tu­ally comes around to Eli­jah’s think­ing and re­al­izes the good he can do with his mys­te­ri­ous power. Then Shya­malan hits us with the rev­e­la­tion that we haven’t just been watch­ing the ori­gin of a su­per­hero but a su­pervil­lain, as well, as Eli­jah outs him­self as the mas­ter­mind be­hind a se­ries of dis­as­ters in his search for David. “Now that we know who you are, I know who I am,” he tri­umphantly pro­claims.

The movie un­folds at a pon­der­ous pace, with Shya­malan bury­ing us in the mun­dane de­tails of the fail­ing mar­riage of David and his wife, Au­drey (Robin Wright, cred­ited here as Robin Wright Penn), to dis­tract us and dis­guise the stor y he’s re­ally telling. The vis­ual style, which re­lies heav­ily on long takes and wide an­gles, has a sim­i­lar ef­fect, even as the tech­nique of fre­quently shoot­ing the char­ac­ters’ re­flec­tions in mir­rors or win­dows rather than the char­ac­ters them­selves, cre­ates pan­els within the frame that are not un­like those found on the pages of comic books. (It also re­in­forces the idea of David and Eli­jah as mir­ror im­ages of each other.)

Though not on the level of “The Sixth Sense,” “Un­break­able” was a hit, gross­ing $248 mil­lion world­wide, and Shya­malan fol­lowed that with a big­ger suc­cess, “Signs,” two years later ($408 mil­lion). After an­other mod­est hit, “The Vil­lage,” in 2004, Shyam­lan started churn­ing out one disaster after an­other as the bud­gets and ex­pec­ta­tions grew larger — “Lady in the Wa­ter” (2006), “The Hap­pen­ing” (2008), “The Last Air­ben­der” (2010), “After Earth” (2013). He started to right the ship in 2015 with “The Visit,” a fun, spooky take on the found-footage sub­genre, then brought on the full-fledged “Shya­malanais­sance” with “Split” in 2017.

‘SPLIT’

In movies, the vil­lains of­ten seem to have the most fun, so with the big bad as its star, it should be no sur­prise that “Split” is such a blast. It might not have much to say about our world, or even the one it cre­ates, but that’s OK, es­pe­cially when you view it as part of the larger story that be­gan with “Un­break­able.”

In the film’s open­ing min­utes, a man (James McAvoy) abducts three teenage girls — friends Claire (Ha­ley Lu Richard­son) and Mar­cia (Jes­sica Sula), and out­sider Casey (Anya Tay­lor-Joy) — in a park­ing lot in broad day­light. The girls wake up locked in a small room and quickly be­come ac­quainted with their kid­nap­per’s bizarre be­hav­ior.

First, he comes to them as Den­nis, a stern, phys­i­cally strong neat freak. At times, he dons women’s cloth­ing, speaks in a Bri­tish ac­cent and goes by the name Pa­tri­cia. At oth­ers, he calls him­self Hed­wig and says he’s 9 years old. He’s re­ally Kevin, a man with an ex­treme case of dis­so­cia­tive iden­tity dis­or­der, caus­ing him to have 23 al­ter­nate per­son­al­i­ties. Den­nis and Pa­tri­cia have taken charge, and are mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for the ar­rival of a 24th iden­tity, an apoc­a­lyp­tic fig­ure they re­fer to as “The Beast.”

McAvoy clearly is hav­ing a blast as the con­flicted main char­ac­ter, al­ter­ing his voice and man­ner­isms to cre­ate his var­ied per­sonas — some­times ca­reen­ing be­tween mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties in the same take. It’s both funny and dis­turb­ing, and the movie wouldn’t work with­out McAvoy’s go-for-broke per­for­mance.

Shya­malan ap­proaches the sto­ry­telling with a sim­i­lar at­ti­tude, rev­el­ing in its B-movie na­ture and play­ing up both the com­edy and the hor­ror. It’s the scari­est film he’s ever made, aug­mented by the omi­nous cam­era work of cin­e­matog­ra­pher Mike Gioulakis (“It Fol­lows”).

With “The Beast” on the loose as the movie ends, “Glass” will find David Dunn pur­su­ing him “in a se­ries of es­ca­lat­ing en­coun­ters, while the shad­owy pres­ence of (Eli­jah) Price emerges as an or­ches­tra­tor who holds se­crets crit­i­cal to both men,” ac­cord­ing to the film’s of­fi­cial syn­op­sis. It should be fas­ci­nat­ing to see how Shya­malan nav­i­gates the in­ter­sec­tion of two films with such dif­fer­ent tones and styles, one so grounded in re­al­ity, the other ready to go off the deep end at any mo­ment.

Shya­malan has in­sisted there will be no fur­ther sequels. Tak­ing him at his word, “Glass” will con­clude one of the most un­ex­pected and cre­ative movie trilo­gies in mem­ory. And you just know he’s stored a few head-spin­ning tricks up his sleeve for this one.

“Un­break­able” Greg’s Grade: ARated PG-13 for ma­ture the­matic el­e­ments, in­clud­ing some dis­turb­ing vi­o­lent con­tent, and for a crude sex­ual ref­er­ence. 106 min­utes. “Split”

Greg’s Grade: B+

Rated PG-13 for dis­turb­ing the­matic con­tent and be­hav­ior, vi­o­lence and some lan­guage. 117 min­utes. —

Like Maki at the Movies on Face book: www.face­book.com/Mak­iAt TheMovies.

UNIVER­SAL PIC­TURES/JES­SICA KOURKOUNIS

From left, Sa­muel L. Jack­son, James McAvoy and Bruce Wil­lis ap­pear in a scene from “Glass.” The movie is a se­quel to writer-pro­ducer-direc­tor M. Night Shya­malan’s “Un­break­able” (2000) and “Split” (2017).

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