Universal City, California, February 26, 2019 – Writer-Director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs) completes a mind-bending trilogy created nearly twenty years ago with GLASS, a comic book thriller available on Digital via the digital movie app MOVIES ANYWHERE on April 2, 2019 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-rayTM, DVD and On Demand on April 16, 2019, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
GLASS is a grounded-in-reality, comic-book thriller where the heroes and villains are people first. The thrilling culmination to the trilogy that started with Unbreakable and Split, stars James McAvoy (Split, Atonement), Samuel L. Jackson (Hitman’s Bodyguard, Avengers Franchise), Bruce Willis (Unbreakable, Die Hard), Sarah Paulson (Ocean’s Eight, American Horror Story) and Anya-Taylor Joy (Split,The Witch). Go inside the mind of master of suspense M. Night Shyamalan to uncover the connections and references that bring the three films together in one universe. Experience more than sixty minutes of never-before-seen features elaborating on his process and artistic vision including an in-depth look at the making of the film, deep insights on the characters, a never-before-seen alternate opening, and deleted scenes.
Split is over a week old and that’s usually enough to disqualify a movie from coverage here. (This is the policy that keeps me from reviewing Blade 2 every six months in a vain attempt to force it in to the conversation for best superhero movie of all time.) But Split had a secret, and that secret didn’t get out until the movie had released and I had already watched the movie for last week. I’m going to talk about this secret right off the bat so if you have somehow avoided this piece of information I will tell you that Split is an excellent horror movie that might be a bit tame in the sheer terror aspects but is totally worth watching especially if you’ve liked M. Night Shyamalan’s works in the past. From here on it’s spoilers on; stop reading if you want that undisturbed experience.
There are a lot of forgivable sins for thrillers. They can have thin characters, they can be completely implausible from premise to execution, and they can even be internally inconsistent if the result is a good amount of tension, but they cannot be boring. Morgan is a boring movie. Not all the way through but overwhelmingly and even in a third act tripping over itself to twist the audience every which way, I never quite got over the fact that the movie had never made me care.
When I first saw the trailer to Morgan, I thought it looked like they were trying to remake Alien but with a much lower budget. There were all these tight corridor shots and a seldom seen monster but instead of a spaceship it was in a house and instead of an elaborate monster it was a pale girl. It’s very possible I was primed to see these similarities because of the “produced by Ridley Scott” credit. I’m happy to report that Morgan is not the Alien remake I thought it was. There’s a dinner scene that sure seems evocative and the way everyone is always talking about directives from a nebulous “corporate” but it more or less ends there. There are some parts heavily borrowed from Blade Runner and those are a little more troubling, but I suppose if I was a first time director and my famous father was paying for my first movie I might do some things I’d know he liked.
I shouldn’t be so hard on these moments of borrowing from old Ridley Scott films, because figuring out why scenes seemed familiar was the most interesting part of the film. Put that aside and you have a lifeless thriller with a mostly muted color palate and there’s just nothing to be entertained by. Paul Giamatti has a small part and it’s a shame, because his big scene is easily the best in the film. He seems willing to pick an emotion and go with it, which is more than the rest of the film can say when every emotional response peaks with a stray tear after a big speech. I also want to give the movie and Rose Leslie credit for having a character react to the kind of intense trauma a supernatural thriller puts a person through by being overwhelmed, shutting down, and kind of leaning in to a Stockholm syndrome kind of response. It’s an interesting response in a movie dying for interesting. Without these flashes of above average we have a movie with predictable scares, obvious twists, and bland visuals. What else is there for a movie to offer?
I struggle to dump on a movie so heavily when it’s the first effort by a director in a low budget film, and then I remembered that I had just seen the directorial debut of Travis Knight. Comparing this movie to Kubo and the Two Strings feels unfair, especially when you compare the budgets ($8 million to $60 million) and maybe it is— but animation is more expensive than two sets and some woods. And you can’t buy storytelling or tension or fun, and one movie had it in spades and the other is picking over scraps. Morgan is a movie I left wanting to talk about the allusions to Ridley Scott films and how intentional they were but secretly thankful that, statistically, I’ll never meet anyone else that’s seen it because I don’t want my family, friends, and acquaintances to have suffered through this movie like I did.
I will never love The Witch but I absolutely respect it. It’s a horror movie without jump scares, without the score leading you to every moment; instead it’s a slow build and a more psychological form of terror. It feels earned, and that goes a long way in a landscape bogged down by a wave of films going for the cheapest scares available. I’m never going to be the kind of person who genuinely loves horror movies, I just don’t like being scared that much in these ways, but I appreciate the craft here and hope (likely in vain) that this is a step towards a better path.
In the end credits the makers of The Witch claim that the film was compiled from contemporary reports, diaries, and official records and that the majority of the dialogue is from those real sources. While that’s a chilling credit after the grisly events depicted it’s completely believable. Most of the dialogue is about 16th century farm life and has no supernatural elements at all. It’s 85% a very slow movie about farm calamities and parental favoritism intercut with brief moments of disturbing supernatural terror.
It might seem lazy to compare this movie to The Blair Witch Project but they have more in common than just witches and long amounts of time spent in the woods. I remember people asking me what was so scary about The Blair Witch Project and saying things like “well, there’s a lot of noises in the night and they get scared and then once they found all these men made of sticks” and no one who hadn’t seen the movie understood a damn thing I was talking about. The same thing applies here as I sit thinking of specific imagery to try and sell how scary this movie is, and I come up with things like “they keep showing this one rabbit with really intense eyes” and “you wouldn’t believe how smug this one goat looked” or even “there was a three second shot of a baby and a knife but nothing happened” and none of it comes across. I promise you that’s the scariest rabbit I’ve ever seen on film, but what’s the point? The Witch creates tension by making you care about the characters and then showing how afraid they can be. That and some damn fine rabbit casting.
The human casting isn’t bad either. Aside from some small parts on Game of Thrones this entire cast was unknown to me but I came away very impressed. The period dialogue and thick accents would trip up any cast but even with mostly child actors it all sounded authentic to me. I’m sure it doesn’t actually pass muster with any expert but that’s not the point. Anya Taylor-Joy seems to have literally emerged from nowhere to completely carry this movie as oldest daughter Thomasin. She has to convey a broad range of emotions with a thick language and dialogue gap to cross but she nails it. I was afraid for her, I was sad for her, I raged against the injustice of the societal machine on her behalf, and it was her quiet presence that gets the film through its rather out there climax. Harvey Scrimshaw also impresses doing an outstanding job acting out the struggle of coming of age in a repressive society despite looking like he’s no older than 11, and while I’m sure he’s actually older there’s nothing about him on the internet, leading me to believe all the young people in this movie were grown in a lab solely to make this movie.
It’s hard to give a solid recommendation on The Witch. I almost walked out of the theater I was so uncomfortable in the tail end of the second act even going so far as giving my fiancée instructions if she didn’t want to leave with me. I’m glad I didn’t because none of what I thought was going to happen did, and I quite enjoyed the climax, but it’s hard to shake that feeling. I’ll probably never watch The Witch again but it’s nice to see a filmmaker like Robert Eggers pushing the boundaries of the genre even if it sort of feels like we’re pushing in the direction that leads back to where we’ve been before. Anything that leads away from the Blumhouse style is fine with me.