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Review: Glass – “A smashing psychological superhero movie”

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Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village), Glass rounds out his series of superhero films that we didn’t know was a thing until the end of Split. Uniting the cast from that film – James McAvoy (Filth) and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) – with Unbreakable’s Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), Bruce Willis (Die Hard) and Spencer Treat Clark (The Town That Dreaded Sundown), and binding it all together with Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story).

Three weeks after the events of Split, dissociative identity disorder villain The Horde (McAvoy) has abducted four cheerleaders. Unbreakable’s hero David Dunn (Willis) – who is now a fully fledged super with a name (“The Overseer”) and everything – saves the girl’s but mid-scrap with The Horde the pair are both busted by the police and thrown into a psychiatric hospital.

Their ward is a pet project of Dr. Ellie Staple (Paulson) – a psychiatrist whose speciality is people who think they’re comic book characters – and SURPRISE also already has Unbreakable’s supervillain Mr. Glass (Jackson) in her collection. She attempts to mindfuck the three into thinking they don’t really have superpowers, while Glass and the Horde team up to escape and show the world their power.

A significant stretch of the film is action free and these therapy sessions could have been dull if not for exciting writing and the wonderful Sarah Paulson. Her doctor is an unknown quantity and the script and Paulson’s chops keep you constantly on guard and on your toes as to whether she is right or wrong and what her game is up until the very end.

Bruce Willis is a pleasure reprising one of his best modern roles and is sweet and sensitive instead of just playing himself, which has been his wont for too long, while Samuel L. Jackson is having a blast as a genius supervillain and arch manipulator.

McAvoy is again excellent as The Horde, showcasing his acting abilities by juggling all the different personalities from Split – including the chilling Miss Patricia, loveable Hedwig, creepy Dennis, bemused Kevin and the beastly… Beast – and even throwing in some new ones, often switching between two or three in a single shot like a total boss.

Anya Taylor-Joy is underused but shines when she gets screen time, using her superpower – empathy – to try and talk down The Horde in a Black Widow/Hulk/”Sun’s getting real low, big guy” stylee. Treat Clark is mostly on the airlines too but gets to do a lot of narrative heavy lifting and with his overview of the events of Unbreakable is a likeable audience proxy and a bit of a tension breaker.

The fact that we know this one is a superhero movie going in (which was Unbreakable’s twist, and Split was a horror movie spun into an origin story) may hamstring it a little with some audiences, as it is the complete opposite of the modern multiplex superhero movie they are used to, but this is actually what makes the film special and it’s core strength.

Glass is a superhero film stripped of all the bombast, bravura, costumes and effects. Talk-y, for the most part, it is a cerebral take on the genre that relies on ideas, performances, cool camera work and cunning narrative pivots and rug-pulls to still create an experience with just as much, if not more, emotional weight than a Marvel or DC movie.

Glass is a smashing psychological superhero movie. Always interesting, it completes Shyamalan’s strange and loose trilogy with a satisfying and surprisingly hopeful ending and manages to do something different as well as catching you unawares a couple of times as is his M.O.

Glass is released in the UK on the 18th of January.

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