Film review: Glass only half full as M Night Shyamalan's schtick gets more transparent

Sarah Paulson as Dr Ellie Staple in Glass
Damon Smith

WRITER-director M Night Shyamalan's mind-bending thriller orchestrates a head-on collision of intriguing characters from his earlier features, Unbreakable and Split.

As brittle and transparent as the title suggests, Glass unfolds in a menacing present day populated by super-powered heroes and villains who could be torn from the brightly inked pages of a comic book.

Shyamalan's confidently executed but emotionally starved conundrum pretends to defy well-worn conventions but ultimately abides by them within a narrative framework which includes an obligatory twist – the film-maker's increasingly laboured trademark since his Oscar-nominated The Sixth Sense.

Cinema audiences with limited exposure to the Marvel or DC Comics universes will be able to second-guess the writer-director's sleights of hands and will be surprised and disappointed by how linear the central plot turns out to be.

Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson deliver muted performances in keeping with the film's largely predictable design, both fading into the background as James McAvoy reprises his show-stopping role as a killer with multiple personalities.

The Glasgow-born actor careens between this menagerie of colourful misfits at dizzying speed, altering accents, mannerisms and posture to convince us that he is an impish nine-year-old boy called Hedwig, a serene matriarch named Patricia or a hulking protector known as Barry.

Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) is a psychiatrist who specialises in a specific delusion of grandeur: individuals who believe they are superheroes.

Working out of Raven Hill Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia, she oversees the treatment of three intriguing individuals: zoo employee Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy) aka The Beast, security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) aka The Overseer, who can unmask sins through touch, and Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson) aka Mr Glass, whose brilliant mind is condemned to a painfully fragile body.

Aided by a team of nurses including Daryl (Adam David Thompson) and Pierce (Luke Kirby), Ellie challenges her patients' self-belief, asking them to entertain the possibility that science can explain the glittering facets of their twisted psyches.

As the treatment reaches a shocking resolution, Kevin's only surviving victim Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), David's proud son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) and Elijah's understanding mother (Charlayne Woodard) await news outside the hospital's security gates.

Running a shade over two hours, Glass is fashioned around splashy set pieces including two brutal, bone-crunching showdowns between McAvoy and Willis.

Paulson counters all the pent-up testosterone by shrouding her shrink in mystery, plus there is a superfluous and self-indulgent cameo from the film-maker himself.

In terms of compelling narrative arcs and satisfying resolutions, this Glass is only half full.

GLASS (15, 129 mins) Thriller/Horror/Action/Romance. James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, Luke Kirby, Adam David Thompson. Director: M Night Shyamalan.

RATING: 6/10

Released: January 18 (UK & Ireland)

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