Yesterday, M Night Shyamalan announced the official sequel to Unbreakable is finally a go. Glass will reunite Samuel L Jackson and Bruce Willis with the writer/director and continue the story of David Dunn and his battle against Mr Glass.
There are… other… things that have been revealed about the movie that we absolutely need to discuss. But to do so is to deal with massive spoilers for a second movie you may not have seen and really should come to cold. We can’t actually tell you which film because that in itself is a spoiler. So, if you are in any doubt, just turn away now. There’ll be a picture of Mr Glass or something just beneath this paragraph to make sure we don’t inadvertently ruin any surprises.
Still here? Aces.
Right then, Glass is a crossover as well as a sequel. It will reunite Willis and Jackson but also include James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, the villain and victim at the heart of Shyamalan’s horror smash hit, Split earlier this year. That film follows Anna Taylor-joy as Casey Cooke, one of three teenaged girls kidnapped by McAvoy’s character. As they try to escape the three discover that Kevin suffers from split personality disorder and has 23 separate identities. Normally he’s able to work with them and live peacefully. But a 24th personality, The Beast, wants to be born and The Beast needs a human sacrifice…
We really liked Split. It makes a massively troubling choice about mental health but the payoff and justification for its portrayal is (just) understandable and unfortunately hidden behind the movie’s final twist. That twist being the reveal that Kevin’s split personalities are not what they appear, and neither is he. Like David Dunn and Elijah Glass, he’s something much more than human.
It’s odd then that our reaction to the sequel news is rather muted. Unbreakable is our favourite Shyamalan movie. Split is maybe our second favourite Shyamalan movie. So why are we just, “Oh cool,” instead of, “OH COOL!”?
The first is the drastic tonal difference between Unbreakable and Split. Unbreakable is a movie that’s defined by its leading man. It’s quiet, reserved, cautious in the exact way David is for most of the movie. His unwillingness to look his abilities in the eye is simultaneously a perfect, muted Call To Adventure story and a surprising poignant story about confidence and male physicality. David is painfully aware of the room he takes up, equally aware of just what the consequences are if he ever cuts loose and is prepared to sacrifice everything, even his own happiness to keep people safe from himself. That’s why the ending works so perfectly: David re-connects not just with his family but with his physical presence in the world. We have no idea what he’s going to do next. We do know it’ll help everyone.
Split is a horror movie. Casey and her friends are food for the Beast. The Beast is, it’s heavily implied, something demonic from the basement of the human conscious and can alter Kevin’s body chemistry to help him do things at the bleeding edge of human capability. Even then, Kevin is the photographic negative of David; a man who has spent his adult life fighting his condition and winning, only to have it forcibly rise up and take control of his life. By the end of the movie Kevin may even be functionally dead. The Beast certainly seems to be in full control.
What David’s appearance at the end of the movie implies is, honestly, rather sad. It seems likely that he’s stayed in the same job, that he’s never quite closed the circuit of his own life and Kevin’s appearance is less a call to arms and more a reluctant return to arms. Shyamalan has talked about how early drafts of Split made clear this wasn’t the case, with David and Mr Glass still locked in battle years after Unbreakable, but until we see that in Glass we won’t know if it’s true or not. If that’s the case, and David is known and active that would be interesting. If he’s called back to service to defeat Kevin as Mr Glass’s latest weapon that’s just a little sad. Either way, the collision between the battered, hopeful Unbreakable and the relentlessly dark Split is one that has to be timed perfectly or Glass will be sunk before it begins.
Then there’s the sneaking suspicion that neither sequel is entirely needed. Unbreakable is one of Shyamalan’s best movies precisely because of how complete it is. Split is one of his best films because of the sting, and, on a second viewing, how horrific it is knowing what’s coming. By bringing the two together you either create something new and extraordinary or severely damage two excellent stand-alone movies. Given some of Shyamalan’s recent choices, there’s understandably some concern about this. Not to mention the inevitable worry that a director who is always at his best when given a small-scale story and a similar-sized budget will go hog wild and turn in some CGI laden monstrosity.
There are two elements of this project that give us not just hope but active excitement. The first is the sheer audacity of doing this. You cannot fail to salute Shyamalan for the sheer chutzpah not only of giving a 17-year old movie a sequel but backdoor piloting it into the absolute last place you’d expect. The moment in Split when the Unbreakable theme starts playing is goose bumps inducing even on a second viewing. It’s Shyamalan’s best puzzle; everything you’ve seen locking into place as you realise where Kevin is, what Kevin is and who is going to have too deal with him. That sheer excitement, the joy of seeing a magic trick you didn’t know was happening conclude, is going to carry a lot of people into Glass. Including us.
And then there’s Casey Cooke.
Anna Taylor-Joy is one of the best actresses of her generation and already has an impressive list of genre credits with The Witch, Split and Morgan all showcasing brilliant turns from her. The fact she’s been confirmed as returning may be the most important element of Glass.
Because if we’re right, Glass isn’t just David, Mr Glass and Kevin’s last battle. It’s Casey’s origin story.
Shyamalan has certain rules he excels at with these stories and the biggest is names. Mr Glass’s self-chosen moniker, likewise The Beast, both point to their own fundamental self-centredness and need to control their narrative. David Dunn and Casey Cooke are alliterative in the classic superhero sense. Matt Murdock. Peter Parker. Betsy Braddock. Wally West. An alliterative name in a world like this means, by and large one thing;
Hero. And with it, a heroic destiny.
We think Casey is going to be the most important character in Glass. It makes perfect sense, fitting with Shyamalan’s fondness for misdirection, the superhero logic of Unbreakable and the suspicion that this really is the last hurrah for David and Mr Glass. After all, the image of a young woman, with no superhuman abilities beyond her incredible will to survive, facing down The Beast and winning has incredible power to it and fits absolutely with the way the genre has changed over the years.
Regardless of how it turns out, Glass has our attention. But if it centres on Casey, and closes the circle between the two movies then it’s going to be even more extraordinary than its leading characters.
By Alasdair Stuart