This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
✨Evie✨’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. REPEAT PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM YET. WATCH IT AND COME BACK; IT'S SIMPLE.
One of the main reasons I was so dissatisfied with 2019's Glass came strictly from the writing of the conclusion. Unbreakable is an undeniably uplifting tale of a working class stand-in for someone who is not typical (mentally, or physically), a man who is defined by trauma and riddled with destructive thoughts and anxieties. For me, it's the second strongest Shyamalan. Split as a follow-up is a rather hard film to describe. It's a clunky but uplifting power anthem for trauma victims trapped inside an outdated mental illness stereotype; albeit one that makes for an interesting filmic experiment in performance, but still one that borders on eyebrow raising at worst. Nevertheless when Shyamalan combined the two in a sequel that promised the conclusion of this saga, I was excited. And Glass is not without it's upsides; however I think the third act is awfully telling about the pratfalls of neurotypical creators creating art for neurodivergents.
In my personal opinion, I think the deaths of the three main protagonists are needlessly sadistic and shot in an almost emotionally detached and unaffected way. I think it's strange that this very climax sees our heroes succumb to the very doubts implanted by the evil medical corporation the procedural second act laboriously paints out. I think it's strange how the movie dismisses any real sign of culpability, sure their deaths are uploaded to the Internet, but this fetishized martyrization feels almost inappropriate when dealing with very real issues like our antiquated (for profit) asylum and healthcare systems. I know the character work involving the Horde and Mr. Glass himself is quite emotionally stirring, but the aforementioned points kept me very distanced from not only this film, but unfortunately his entire oeuvre for a short while. I felt like the chuds of vulgar twitter wouldn't accommodate a lived-in experience of someone like me who has struggled with misdiagnoses and had a corrosive self-destructive identity when it came to their neurodivergency.
Old is a movie about a group of people, all from various backgrounds, all who are either immediately or proximately affected by some sort of mental disorder or physical disadvantage. The set-up of this and Glass are nearly identical. The main difference is the cinematographic approach, and the conclusion. Old is much more breezily paced, has consistently gorgeous sun soaked and textural photography from one of the most exciting digital DP-auteurs Mike Gioulakis (I love how elegant the direction is here; the beach is treated by the camera as an indoor space, the camera constantly swiveling around its subjects to either provide new narrative information or re-establish mental interiority through clever blocking. It's like a chamber drama at times), and has a mature and intelligent twist that recontextualizes its material for the better.
Besides those differences on the surface level, it continues deeper. With the exception of the rich white adults (their daughter remains innocent, even up to her tragic demise), every single main cast member is given a fleshed out identity (see: the married couple of the male nurse and his epileptic wife, or even the rapper Mid-Size Sedan who blossoms into a tragic figure halfway through), one which both the camera and the audience are expected to respect and admonish. Their demises are treated with either empathy or remorse; the two main exceptions again being the rich white family of self-absorbed and potentially racist villains (the scene in the cave is a stand out of stretching a visual concept to utterly terrifying and grotesque heights).
The final act's twist, one in which a character played by M Knight himself is revealed to be an employee recording and examining test results for a shady medical company which routinely exploits and abuses people like this for an imagined "greater good", in which a society of well-endowed people can receive medicine at the hands of the human beings we've come to endear and understand as entirely expendable. I feel like, whether intentional or not, the image of Shyamalan in-universe using cameras to film the events of this film is a self-critique of previous films he's made in which he has been criticized for exploiting mental illnesses. While I haven't really been in agreement that this is a prevalent case (sans the Glass ending), it's a starkly and brutally honest submission of the camera as a tool of voyeurism (Hitchcock eat your heart out!!).
The thoughtfulness and sincerity of an ending like this honestly felt glorious. It felt like a redux of Glass, an atonement for the lack of culpability and the lack of humanity with regards to its subjects. I'm glad Shyamalan took 15 minutes or so to deviate plotwise so that the evil corporation gets taken down by Trent and Maddox and whatever law agency they bring with them. I'm glad there are so many painfully awkward and uncomfortable conversations and ideas on display. I'm glad that this film exists; it shows artistic evolution and development, and perhaps this film was simply born of existential fear (Shyamalan is 50 this year! Huge milestone, but scary one!), but whatever external force drove Shyamalan to make this really made him give it his all. Bravo!
In other news, I need to see Servant.