Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, and (dun dun dun!) Bruce Willis
Have I Seen it Before: I thought I was done with M. Night for several years now. People said I needed to go see it.
Did I Like It: They were right.
The text of this review appeared previously in a blog post entitled “Surprise! On M. Night and his rebound.” published 02/05/2017.
NOTE: SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS FOR SHYAMALAN’S LATEST MOVIE, Split (2016) follow. Also, I’ll talk about significant spoilers for plenty of other movies including Arrival (2016), Midnight in Paris (2011), and Back to the Future (1985). However, if you haven’t seen Back to the Future, what in the absolute hell are you doing reading my blog? Go watch Back to the Future. I don’t even know what to do with you anymore. Have you watched it yet? Okay, now we can get on with the blog.
Surprises in movies are a rare thing.
I spent last week heralding the art form of the movie trailer, but movie previews do have the tendency to load up the prospective movie goer with too much information. Honestly, when was the last time you went into a movie and didn’t know nearly everything about what you were going to see? It’s a rare thing to be surprised by a movie.
The stories of the test screenings for Back to the Future are an interesting example of the opposite phenomenon. A California audience was brought into the screening and told nothing about the film that would follow, besides that Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd is in it. Could you imagine how that movie played without any additional information? It’s a light and breezy 80s teen comedy for the first half an hour, before the very fabric of the space-time continuum is up for grabs.
Surprise time-travel may be one of my favorite things in movies. Arrival does it well, and Midnight in Paris singlehandedly elevates the late Woody Allen catalogue based solely on the device.
Then Lora informed me that she had both a) been spoiled on Split’s surprise ending and b) I would love the ending.
I had been pretty cool on M. Night Shyamalan’s work in recent years. Since I guessed—and then immediately dismissed—the twist ending of The Village I’ve had the feeling that his work was going downhill pretty fast. The Visit (2015) was a return to form for him, but I felt like he may never reach the zenith of his output, Unbreakable (2000)…
More about that in a minute.
With Lora giving it her now-spoiled seal of approval, I thought only one thing could force my wife to guarantee that I would love the movie’s inevitable twist ending. McAvoy’s split personalities would somehow be tied to some bending or breaking of the rules of the fourth dimension. That’s fine, I guess, but I wasn’t sure how they could possibly fit such a plot development into the movie.
Turns out I was wrong, but Lora was right that I loved the twist that was in the movie.
Ever since Shyamalan completed Unbreakable, there have been whispers about a potential sequel. The principals involved were game, but the original box office receipts were tame, especially compared with the money explosion that was The Sixth Sense (1999). It seemed like an Unbreakable 2 would join the ranks of Ghostbusters 3*, The Rocketeer 2**, or the Star Wars sequel trilogy*** as things that were just never going to happen.
But the moment that McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb escapes authorities for one final discussion with himself and the supernatural beast that lies within, a very familiar James Newton Howard score begins to play. That can’t be right, I think. Then we cut to a diner, where a news report of the events of the film plays out. Someone mentions that it reminds them of that crazy terrorist in the wheelchair they captured fifteen years ago. No one remembers his name.
“Mr. Glass,” David Dunn replies, looking an awful lot like Bruce Willis. “They called him Mr. Glass.”
I’m the only one laughing in the theater. Some fifteen-year-old in the front row who thinks he is the smartest entity currently alive cries out, “DID ANYBODY GET WHAT THAT WAS ABOUT?”
“YES!” I cry, happy to engage with someone who was likely too young to possibly understand what was happening.
“OKAY, SO WHAT HAPPENED?” the little shit retorted.
“GO WATCH UNBREAKABLE!” I tell him.
“OH, OKAY,” the little kid says. An unspoken “old man river” is appended to his dismissal.
My unbroken trend of wanting to get into shouting matches with strangers after movies conclude aside, I’m blown away by this movie. It’s a solid Hitchcockian-with-a-touch-of-the-supernatural yarn, something that by this point Shyamalan should be able to do quite well.
But, as with all great twist endings, the final moments of the film make it something else: a surprise sequel to Unbreakable.
A. Surprise. Sequel.
Has that ever been done before? Dan Aykroyd shows up for a cameo—ostensibly as Ray Stanz—in Casper (1995) but that is more of a gag than a greater link to a larger mythos. Robert Downey Jr. reprises the role of Tony Stark for the first time in The Incredible Hulk (2008), but that little easter egg was well-advertised in the initial push to create hype around the then-embryonic Marcel Cinematic Universe…
But this? I legitimately don’t think anyone has ever made a surprise sequel before. Maybe I’m wrong. If I am, let me know in the comments. In the meantime, I’ll be watching my well-loved Unbreakable blu-ray and waiting patiently for the climactic showdown still to come between David Dunn/Everyman/Security Man and Kevin Wendell Crumb/The Beast/The Hoard.
*For the record, <I’m fine with the remake>, but that doesn’t diminish how much I would have enjoyed seeing another direct sequel with the players still all in there prime. Probably by 1995, that was never going to happen.
**Which might still happen! Believe!