Face-Off: Unbreakable vs. Split

Fans have been waiting almost 20 years to see a sequel to M. Night Shyamalan's 2000 film UNBREAKABLE, and we're finally getting one this weekend with the release of GLASS. Raising the excitement level for that film even further is the fact that it also serves as a sequel to Shyamalan's 2016 movie SPLIT, as characters from both UNBREAKABLE and SPLIT will be crossing paths and fighting each other in GLASS. In anticipation of this crossover / sequel event, there was only one option considered for this week's Face-Off: we have to see how UNBREAKABLE and SPLIT do when put up against each other like their characters are going to be in GLASS.


Samuel L. Jackson plays Elijah Price, who has earned the nickname "Mr. Glass" due to the fact that he has a condition that makes his bones very brittle. Fascinated by comic books and convinced they're a way of letting the world know there are extraordinary individuals among us, Price believes someone out there must be his opposite, as unbreakable as he is breakable. Unfortunately, he goes about trying to find his opposite by committing acts of terrorism. His actions cause the deaths of more than 500 people, and it's all just so he can prove that there is a damage-resistant hero in the Philadelphia area. Jackson turns in a great performance as man who is very damaged mentally and physically.

SPLIT is truly a showcase for actor James McAvoy, who plays Kevin Wendell Crumb... and several of the 24 personalities that inhabit his body. Raised by an abusive mother, Kevin created other personalities to protect himself, and now the other personalities are in control - and fighting over the "spotlight". It's amazing to watch McAvoy switch from character to character, making each of them distinct from each other. Some of Kevin's personalities have started to believe in the mythology of a monstrous personality called the Beast, which wants to feed on the bodies of impure young women. So they have abducted three teen girls as an offering to this thing that will be arriving soon.


The idea that they're a superhero may be tough for some people to accept, but I still think most people would figure it out more quickly than David Dunn does. Who would need to check with their boss to confirm that they've never taken a sick day in the last five years? Who wouldn't think it's odd that they see flashes in their head showing the crimes someone has committed when they touch that person's hand? David comes around to the idea slowly, though, and the movie does a good job of showing the gradual process as David figures out he has never been sick and can lift a lot of weight, and that the "crime flash" ability is something special. By the end he's putting on a slicker and hitting the streets to bust criminals. All he has to do is stay away from his weakness: water.

Crumb has a lot of personalities in his head, but they're regular people, even if some of them are off-kilter. There's a meticulous cleaner, a British woman, a fashion designer, a 9-year-old boy who loves Kanye West, etc. They're not superhumans. The Beast personality, on the other hand, is superhuman. The other personalities build up the Beast for a large portion of the film, so we're anticipating its arrival, and when it does show up it's not disappointing. This personality emerges for the climax, and during its time on screen we see we see blades break on the Beast's tough skin, we see it bend steels bars with it bare hands, we see it heal from wounds that should have been fatal, and it even has the ability to climb walls. This is when SPLIT admits it's not taking place in our reality.


UNBREAKABLE is more of a low-key dramatic take on a superhero origin story than it is a thriller, but it does have some thrills. There's uneasiness when the fragile Mr. Glass chases someone down a flight of stairs. Near the end David risks his life to stop a deadly home invasion / hostage situation. The most thrilling scene for me is when David's son pulls a gun on him, wanting to prove that his dad can't be hurt - but neither David nor the viewer can be sure his skin is tough enough to stop bullets.

SPLIT is a thriller through and through, focusing on the plight of the girls that have been abducted by some of Crumb's personalities. We're rooting for these girls to get out of this situation, but it starts to look hopeless as each escape attempt the girls make gets foiled in some way, whether it be because a member of the Horde (the bad personalities in Crumb's head) figures out what they're up to, or because someone in the outside world is an idiot. It's a very engaging story.


There is one large hole in Elijah's theory that David is the unbreakable hero he's been looking for: in college, David was in a car accident and suffered an injury that ended his days of playing football. The question lingers, if David was ever injured, then how can he live up to the title? It's a nice dramatic wrinkle that holds David back from diving into the superheroics too quickly. A flashback eventually gives the answer, confirming that Elijah was right and freeing David up to pursue a crimefighting career. 

While heroine Casey Cooke is held captive, she has several flashbacks to her childhood. Disturbing, creepy ones that provide the information (thankfully we're not shown the details) that she was molested by her uncle, who became her primary caregiver when she was very young. These set up the fact that Casey can handle a gun and that she is "damaged", which makes her a more evolved person in the eyes of the Horde and their Beast. It's very unpleasant stuff, though, and doesn't have a satisfying resolution. 


At one point, a character in UNBREAKABLE says (about a comic book), "They say this one has a surprise ending." Audiences were bracing themselves for the film to have a surprise ending as well, since this was Shyamalan's follow-up to THE SIXTH SENSE. The ending reveal that Elijah is a villain is not all that surprising, though. He has exhibited odd behavior throughout. Other characters don't trust him, dumping water he gives them to drink and saying they're going to call the cops on him. David has a change of heart about him right before the reveal, but that doesn't make the ending any more of a surprise.

Again, if you're expecting SPLIT to be the sort of Shyamalan film that has a major twist at the end, you're going to be disappointed. The events of the film happen exactly as they're presented, there's no character who isn't as they appear or what they say they are. There just happens to be a cameo by an unexpected character. The final scene reveals that SPLIT takes place in the same universe as UNBREAKABLE when we see David Dunn sitting in a diner where people are discussing Kevin Wendell Crumb. It's not much, but it's enough to get the hype train rolling for the "Dunn vs. Crumb" match-up in GLASS.


This was a very hard-fought battle, with SPLIT just barely squeaking out a win... and oddly, the deciding factor was that UNBREAKABLE's David Dunn shows up at the end of it. These are very closely matched films in my book, they're both great and together they're my top two favorite movies M. Night Shyamalan has ever made. I can't wait to see this trilogy reach its conclusion in GLASS.

Do you agree with the outcome of this Face-Off, or do you think UNBREAKABLE should have won? Honestly, I thought it was going to, but SPLIT stole the victory at the last moment. Share your thoughts on these films in the comments section below. If you have suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can send them to me at [email protected].



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