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(Un?)Breaking Split Expectations (a no spoilers Glass review)

So once again I’ve been too busy to post movie reviews. I’ve sen a bunch, but I just haven’t gotten to writing them up. I do talk about films (in a different way) quite often on my podcast, VoxPopcast (cheap plug), so you should totally be listening to that. But if people want me to keep writing up more in depth thoughts here, let me know. In any case, a couple people specifically asked me to talk about the new movie Glass which I saw this weekend.

I have complicated feelings about M. Night Shyamalan. I’m the weird person who didn’t like The Sixth Sense. My big problem with it is that I figured out the twist in the first ten minutes. We talked about this on the show a while back (again, another cheap plug). And I don’t mean that as a thing to brag about. The thing with fans of The Sixth Sense is that they all say that the magic of the film is that on the second or third viewings, once you know the twist, it’s amazing how well crafted the subtle hints are and that it’s cool to watch it unfold. I disagree. When I watch the movie, knowing the ending, everything in it seems PAINFULLY obvious and just annoying. And I feel the same about a lot of Shyamalan movies. In fact, for the most part each successive one is worse because you EXPECT a twist. They’ve become a whole game where you sit there in the theater with your arms crossed going “ok, when’s the twist coming?”

Unbreakable and Split are actually the exceptions for me. In fact, Unbreakable is without a doubt, my favorite of his films. Not because it’s a superhero movie. But because it’s NOT. That is, it doesn’t “do superhero stuff.” It sort of reimagines superhero stuff through the lens of superhero stuff. It’s not so much a film about a twist. The twist is the deconstruction of the idea of what it means to tell a superhero story. In a lot of ways it’s sort of ruminating on the ideas that I am thinking through in my dissertation. So it’s not really a surprise I like it so much. In fact, I’ll probably talk about it in my dissertation at some point before I’m done.

Split is kind of the same thing. I’m actually not a big fan of horror movies. I generally don’t care for them at all, honestly. There are a few exceptions, mostly of the more suspense than horror variety. But I felt like Split did the same thing as Unbreakable. It wasn’t so much about trying to have a “twist” per se (which is how I felt about a bunch of other Shyamalan films, include The Sixth Sense). It was more about rethinking what it meant to be a horror movie. I didn’t love it the same way other people did. But I appreciated what it was trying to do. It was certainly worth seeing and thinking about. And the bumper at the end of it, got me invested in seeing the next film because if he was going to try to merge these worlds together, I was interested in seeing how they would play off of each other.

And so… Glass. Well, I didn’t hate it. That’s actually a good thing. I wasn’t sitting around waiting for it to be over. But I didn’t love it either. I think mostly, it was about managing expectations. I already got a Shyamalan movie that deconstructed the superhero genre and I got one that deconstructed the horror genre and what I was expected was one that… I guess… SPLIT the difference. The two previous films do a great job of stripping the essentials of the two genres down into their barest parts. What I wanted of this one was a film that took those pieces and reassembled them into something new. But it didn’t really do that.

The thing I was afraid of was having the movie lean too heavily on Split. It’s the more recent film. It’s the bigger hit. It’s where Shyamalan is as a filmmaker right now. But really, just the opposite happened. For all intents and purposes I felt like Glass was a sequel to Unbreakable. It cared more about continuing that story. It cared more about building on that world. The lore of Split was represented, but it was more just window dressing. You didn’t really need to see that movie or understand it. Essentially this film just lifts James McAvoy’s Kevin and Ana Taylor-Joy’s Casey out of their horror movie and drops them into the sequel to Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson’s superhero movie. It is very much a sequel to Unbreakable and not so much to Split at all.

The problem is… I don’t think Unbreakable really needed that sequel. As much as I loved that first movie I’ve honestly never found myself saying “hey, they should revisit that world and see what else is going on there.” That was kind of the great thing about Split. To the extent that it was a sequel to Unbreakable that was more or less unexpected. That was the twist. “Here is something that you weren’t really looking for… and now you can enjoy it!” It was unexpected.

But this movie didn’t have that benefit. It was… a sequel to Unbreakable. In some ways, I think a lot of people will find what it is unexpected. The trailers are… not doing it justice. It is not the kind of movie that it looks like. It is much more understated. It is… a lot like Unbreakable. Too much. What I liked about it was the tone. I liked living in that world the first time. I enjoyed seeing how things played out. How things progressed. And here… you get to see it all happen again. It’s the same kind of movie. I liked the tone, but it felt pointless. It felt like it wanted to say something at the end.. the same way Unbreakable did… but what it said was something that I already knew… from the first time… 19 years ago!

So that leaves me in a weird place. The reason I decided to write this review was because several people said they wanted to hear my thoughts. They wanted to know if I would recommend it. I can’t. But I also can’t not recommend it. It all depends on what your expectations are. If you want to go in and get more of something you’ve seen before… you’re going to get that… But if you’re looking for something that’s going to blow your mind. That’s not going to happen.

I get why the critics are down on this. It really is more of the same. That’s not a bad thing, I don’t think. But it’s not good either. But what are good and bad? That’s kind of what the movie wants you to think about.

★★½☆☆+ (2.5 out of 5 stars)


3 comments for “(Un?)Breaking Split Expectations (a no spoilers Glass review)

  1. marybeth
    January 22, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    I appreciate you have a podcast, but I have auditory processing problems so I never can listen to them – so I really do appreciate you writing things down here.

    As for the movie – if you’ve not seen Unbreakable, but you are curious about what a M. Night movie might be like, would this be a bit enjoyable do you think? I saw the trailer and was intrigued, but hadn’t yet decided on whether it was worth the trip out into the cold (brrr). I both like hero/action movies and deconstructing them in fun ways, so I thought it might possibly be good?

    1. mav
      January 22, 2019 at 5:58 pm

      The podcast is actually a little different from the movie reviews I do here. That is, we don’t really REVIEW movies per se (maybe we should start… I’ll have to think about it… two of us see WAY more movies than the other two) but we do talk about them in context of other issues. So it’s sort of an expansion of the non-review high criticism part of what I do here… but with people that aren’t just me.

      As for seeing this movie without seeing Unbreakable. You’d UNDERSTAND it, but I can’t say you’d LIKE it. Glass sort of assumes a familiarity with the characters in order to get you to care about what happens to any of them. To say this without spoilers… You’ll see David (Bruce Willis’s character) and you’ll understand “ok, that guy is a superhero of a sort” and you’ll see that he has a son and you’ll say “dad and son love each other. I get that.” but this film doesn’t really explain why their relationship is important… at all… or even why David is a superhero… that’s all in the first movie. So you’ll get it because you know what dads are and you know what superheroes are… but I expect you’d just say “ok… so what?”

      Same thing with David’s relationship with Mr. Glass (Jackson). And by the same token Casey and Kevin’s relationship (the characters from Split) isn’t really explained other than “ok, they know each other from the previous movie.”

      So I feel like it wouldn’t be offensive or anything. But it would feel very hollow. I certainly wouldn’t go out in the cold to see it… especially without seeing the other films first (at least Unbreakable).

      Honestly, you’d be better off just buying the older film on Amazon from one of the links in this post (yay kickbacks for me!) and enjoying it at home.

  2. January 23, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    I thought of it as a coda, because if I think of it as Act 3 of a story about limitations and purpos…

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