Yesterday, we escaped the hottest part of the day by seeing Glass – M Knight Shyamalan’s newest project.
The plot focuses on David Dunn (Unbreakable) and Kevin Wendall Crumb + co. (Split) getting arrested and then hospitalised by an eager psychiatrist who thinks she can cure them of their super hero delusions. In the hospital, they’re joined by Mr Glass (Unbreakable), who sets about on a nefarious plot to let the world know that super heroes do exist, and can like, you know, fuck shit up. X-Men style co-existence conflicts, menacing psychiatry, James McAvoy, a wacky dacky Shyamalan twist and have it all wrapped up in a comic book universe? Sure! That sounds fantastic.
I was able to suspend my inner critic and really enjoy the flick until the third act – or, as I will now refer to it as, the “exposition act”. Well, the whole movie is pretty flawed, but the story was intriguing and his movies are always great cinematically, so I forgave the issues with pacing and cringey dialogue because I was having fun. Younger Audrey would have skewered the writing, but I have grown soft and buttery in my old age and now I just want to have a good time. I know Shyamalan movies enough to expect everything to be spelled out to me. And my standards for what makes a movie good have dropped pretty dramatically. But even with this acknowledgement of lazy writing, and the drop in my quality assurance department, I still found myself growling over the dialogue in the final act.
Now now, I am a professional, Academy award winning screen writer*, so I think I know a thing or two about writing for the talking pictures. Any writing class worth its salt will teach you it’s better – nay, crucial – to show it, don’t say it. Humans like the chase, like to hunt. Good writing is stealthy, like a cheetah, and twists should pounce on the gazelle (audience) before they know what hits them. If we happen to catch up with stealthy writing, it’s secretly (ok not so secretly) thrilling (like when you figure out Westworld before you the writers confirm it on reddit), because we worked harder to understand what’s happening, and the payoff is sweet – like the cheetah catching the gazelle. So when you have a third act where nearly every line spoken by a character is bluntly explaining what is happening in the scene, it takes all the build up that may have been created and deflates it. The gazelle dies of a heart attack mid-sprint, and the cheetah stumbles over it and breaks its neck.
It’s lazy story telling. It’s a way to show your audience that you got all the way to the third act and realised you couldn’t have a movie last 4 hours. It’s arrogant writing – it’s assuming that your plot is so layered and intense that your audience won’t catch on unless it’s explained. And sometimes, it really grinds my gears. YES I REALISE – sometimes expository dialogue is necessary and unavoidable. This is true. But there’s a way to do it seamlessly, so it flows as a natural part of the story. This is not what Glass did. Having a character say to another character “It was an origin story all along,” when the movie is MARKETED AS AN ORIGIN STORY, or when a character stops another character mid-death (literally, mid-death) just to awkwardly remind them that they work for a secret organisation, my eyes roll back into my head and I can’t pull them back out without the help of spoons.
I just think of all the wasted potential with these characters. They’re cool characters! It could have been much more nuanced and layered. You could have a field day with that climax. Instead, we got… the cheetah turning vegan at the last second and explaining his plant based diet.
And then there was the twist. It was surprising, but not OH SHIT, like Shyalaman remembered at the last minute that he needed something at the end. And then there was ANOTHER twist. But there was more importance put on the first twist and less on the second, even though I thought it should have been the other way around. The first twist is pointed out plain as day by the characters on screen. 10 minutes later, we get another twist, with no expository explanation, and it sorta peters out as the end of the movie – so the ending is a bit muddy as to whose origin story was just told. (I’m being purposely vague because I don’t want to post explicit spoilers). Which wasn’t as satisfying as open ended conclusions usually are.
– that being said – it’s still a fun movie. I mostly had a good time. And James McAvoy is one of my most favourite people ever. His performance and attention to detail are flawless, and he terrifies me. I was also secretly hoping that the twist would be Haley Joel Osment showing up at the very end and saying something to the tune of “You’re dead already” but that didn’t happen, so hey.
My opinion: Better than The Village, but not as good as Unbreakable. Worth watching. But maybe rent it. Also gets +100 points for awesome title graphics in the opening credits.
*I am not.