Glass tries to be a different type of superhero movie, it really does. M. Night Shyamalan’s concept of real-world heroes is a solid one. Unbreakable proves that. As far as I’m concerned, Unbreakable is Shyamalan’s best, one of only two very good (i.e., not quite great) movies he’s made. By making Glass an explicit sequel to Unbreakable, Shyamalan invites me to compare the two, and Glass doesn’t measure up. Call it a Glass that’s about a quarter empty. Of course, that’s still three-quarters full.
Much of Glass is an extended superhero therapy session for Unbreakable’s David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) along with Split’s Horde (James McAvoy), after the three are apprehended and institutionalized at the start of the film. These therapy scenes, led Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), are very slow. We know something is going to eventually happen, but the pace seemed wasteful because every minute in therapy is a minute less for the showdown between Dunn and the Horde that I’ve been waiting for since the last minute of Split. Even with their slow pace, the therapy scenes are still enjoyable, though, in large part because of McAvoy’s amazing performance as he gives us 24 distinct personalities without falling into ridiculousness.
When the showdown between Dunn and the Horde finally comes, it feels like an afterthought. I wish that Shamalan’s previous movies had been better, not only so less of my time had been wasted watching that trash, but also because it seemed a lot of the missing flash in the showdown was due to Glass’s limited budget. Since realism is an essential part of the film, I didn’t expect fireballs or eye lasers, but I did expect to see something special, even before Price expressed a desire to have the fight televised to show the world that superheroes were real. The YouTube footage of Spider-Man from Captain America: Civil War made me feel like I was watching something amazing. Glass’s footage just wasn’t up to that level and it needed to be for this movie to have a satisfying payoff.
The lack of a satisfying payoff is particularly disappointing once we see how the story plays out. Without getting too spoiler-y, I think it’s safe to say that Shyamalan’s ending pisses away any goodwill left over from Unbreakable. Which is a shame because Shyamalan clearly intended to leave room for more sequels, but in getting there he shattered my desire to see any of them.
Ironically, I think it’s the film itself that suffers from DID (dissociative identity disorder, or “multiple personalities”). M. Night Shyamalan can’t decide if this is a strict horror film or if it’s more thriller, or character-driven. He jumps right into the plot with minimal fuss: three teenaged girls are abducted by a very methodical man who turned out to be only one personality among many. Captive, the girls try to figure out which of the personalities might be induced to help them, and which ones mean them harm.
The film works as well as it does because James McAvoy was the perfect casting choice (although he was 2nd choice, and only took the role when Joaquin Phoenix had some conflicts). In the hands of anyone else, the disorder might have seemed funny or cartoonish, but McAvoy gives each personality a distinctive flavour without ever resorting to stereotypes. And that’s hard work period, never mind the fact that he’s fighting Shyamalan’s confused script, that seems to want to have something meaningful to say about this controversial disorder, but also really just wants to be an exploitative horror film. You can’t have it both ways.
Split is further testament that M. Night Shymalan has lost his way. He doesn’t know who he is as a film maker anymore, and his lack of confidence is evident in the script and on the screen. Having jumped head first into action, he then seems to regret his choice of not having introduced any of his characters. He bestows back stories on two of them through flashbacks, hoping it’s not too late. The rest remain paper thin. The girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula) are mostly there to scream on cue, and to wear progressively less clothing.
Is it a bad movie? No. No-ish. It’s not without merit. I was drawn in, and stressed out. I had all the right reactions. I just didn’t buy it 100%. You might be tempted, particularly by the film’s end, to say that it’s Shyamalan’s best work since Unbreakable. He’s certainly hoping you’ll say that, banking on it in fact. It’s not the highest compliment, of course, but I’m guessing he’ll take it.
Let’s get it out of the way right up front: The Witch will make your skin crawl. If you like horror movies then mark your calendars and track this down when it comes out next February!
We jumped at the chance to see the Witch at NHFF last weekend, where it won Best Feature (the festival’s top prize). The Witch has also screened at Sundance and a few other festivals, but the NHFF screening was the last one prior to release, so if you haven’t been lucky enough to see it yet then you have to wait until February. I got the sense this screening only happened because director Robert Eggers is a New Hampshirite, particularly because at the distributor’s request, the balcony of the Music Hall was blocked off in order to keep the screening as small as possible (only around 400 people ended up being let in).
The Witch has gathered significant acclaim everywhere it has screened, and all those accolades are well-deserved. In addition to Best Feature at NHFF, Mr. Eggers has also been awarded the Directing Award (Dramatic) at Sundance and the Sutherland Award (for best first feature) at the London Film Festival. I hope that acclaim helps secure a wide release for this movie. It truly is worth watching even if horror movies are not your usual fare. Because this is not your typical horror movie. It is so much more.
What sets the Witch apart is the unique journey that we are taken on. One of the most memorable aspects for me is how completely authentic the Witch feels in every aspect, from dialogue to sets to costumes to the woods themselves (even though, to Mr. Eggers’ stated regret, for financial reasons he had to film in Ontario rather than New Hampshire). This level of authenticity and the care taken in crafting this movie clearly demonstrates Mr. Eggers’ deep love of New England’s lore, history and folk tales. In applying that love to the horror genre, he has come up with something unique and captivating. I was drawn in to this film’s world and that is an impressive feat when I am a polar opposite to the isolated 17th century pioneer family who are the Witch’s protagonists. The loneliness and eeriness of the family farm and the surrounding woods are themes of the movie that we are made aware of instantly by Mr. Eggers, and in every shot the suspense and tension builds. The music is particularly noteworthy, as again and again the score completes these scenes and tells us that worse things lie ahead (and oh my god, do they ever).
I don’t want to spoil anything about this movie so I’m not going to get into the plot at all. It’s one of the creepiest movies I have ever seen, and I did not see the ending coming at all. The climactic scenes in particular kept me on the edge of my seat and gave me even more of a payoff than I could have hoped for. I hope all of you are able to see this because it’s a truly incredible movie.
The Witch gets a score of ten old-timey brooms out of ten.