Imagine sitting down for a movie. You know what that movie is but when it's about you, you've been watching a secret sequel to one of your favorite movies or all the time. M. Night Shyamalan's and it was one of the best experiences I've ever had in a movie theater.
With Glass coming out this week, it seemed like a good time to tell my unique, unexpected speech. Though Played opened for general audiences in January of 2017, I saw it about four months earlier, September 2016, at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. Fantastic Fest is one of the world's largest genre film festivals, and it's both run by, and takes place at, the Alamo Drafthouse. Each year the festival has at least one, sometimes two, Secret Screenings. You have no idea what you're going to watch until the lights go down and the movie starts. Last year it was Suspiria but in other years the fest showed Cloud Atlas, There Will Be Blood Crimson Peak a ton of stuff. You never know what it's going to be but it's always cool and a big surprise. Back in 2016, it was Split .
No matter what the movie is, often times, the best part of the Secret Screenings is the speculation. In the days and hours leading up to it, the whole thing becomes a huge, buzzing topic of conversation at the festival. In this instance, late 2016, everyone was dying to see maybe Rogue One or Fantastic Beasts . Now, Disney or Warner Bros. would never screen that, but thats how wild the hype gets. I even remember people guessing that Rian Johnson could screen a rough cut of The Last Jedi a year in half before it was released because he was the festival before. Moral of the story? The speculation can be exceptionally silly.
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Eventually, realistic guesses start to join the conversation and even some insider knowledge. In 2016, the big insider tip I heard that the festival was excited this particular filmmaker was attending. So far, movies that came out in the next couple of months, had prominent directors, fit the genre flavor of the festival, and could hypothetically screen there
Immediately one movie jumped out: M. Night Shyamalan's Split which most of my friends agreed was a decent guess. So after we walked into the theater, listened to the mysterious introduction and the lights went down, I was less than two to see that the movie was, in fact, Split .
It's important, again , to note this was about four months before the movie came out in theaters. All we really knew about Split then was James McAvoy played a person with multiple personalities who kidnapped some girls, which was gleaned from the first and only trailer at the time, which came out in July of 2016. Honestly though ? I don't even remember watching that trailer. I had liked Shyamalan's last film, The Visit (which I even interviewed him for), so I was optimistic about this new, low-budget thriller road he was taking. Fast forward about 112 minutes. I had enjoyed Split . It was well done, creepy, and with an incredible lead performance at McAvoy. You can read more about it in my review from the time.
And then this happened.
About 20 seconds into the below clip (which is the last two minutes and 30 seconds of Split ) you'll notice a few notes of music. Those notes of music, at least to me, were instantly recognizable as James Newton Howard's score from Unbreakable a score I adored and listened to regularly for almost 16 years.
I heard that music and sat up straight in my chair. In the field my friend was looking at me strangely. "Let him show the world how powerful we can be," says McAvoy's character, Kevin. That, coupled with the music, lead me to lean over to my friend and say "Holy shit, it's an Unbreakable movie."
Now, I can't be 100 percent sure of this next party —The other 300 people in that theater were all very savvy — but clocking in with a time of roughly 20 seconds, it was distinctly possible I was the first person in that room to put this together. In fact, to this day, my friend swears that I was. If that's true, since this was the film's world premiere, it's also possible I may have been the first general audience member to figure it out in the world. Unlikely, but possible. I digress
That idea of someone with power showing the world their true identity is the core of Mr. Glass's beliefs in Unbreakable so I was sure Shyamalan was up to something related to that. I sat up further in my chair. The Unbreakable score then really kicks in as the "Split" title card comes up, marking the end of one movie but also letting the audience know something is still happening. It was at this point, the assume, other fans started to sniff out the twist.
The movie cuts to a diner with a TV playing the news. Howard's score continues to play. After hearing a report on the events in the movie, a girl says “This is like that crazy guy in a wheelchair they put away 15 years ago. They gave him a funny name too. What was it? ”And then, there he was. The big reveal. Bruce Willis himself, reprising his role from a movie released 16 years earlier, to answer the woman's question. "Mr. Glass, ”he said, making all my Unbreakable dreams come true. The score crescendos and the credits roll.
I cheered. Loudly. I don't remember much else. I'm sure there were tears (based on the fact that simply remembering the moment right now brings them up). I'm sure I told you! I called it! ”To the people around me. I may have even jumped out of my seat. It's all a blur because, really, how do you react to something like that? When you find out the movie you've just been watching is actually a sequel to a movie that has a huge emotional connection to? Unbreakable didn't have the same impact on you as it did did me, think of your favorite movie. For argument sake, let's say it Back to the Future . Now, take that filmmaker's seemingly unrelated new movie. Say, Welcome to Marwen . Imagine if, at the end of Welcome to Marwen Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd appeared in a brand new DeLorean and said to the main character, "Mark, we have to take you back to the future! "Yes, that's an example but it's almost less than imagining Split would have somehow been related to Unbreakable at that time. I freaked out. I buzzed about it. I'm still buzzing about it.
After the crowd (some of whom had never seen Unbreakable and didn't know why we were so excited) stopped cheering, Shyamalan came out to do a Q&A. He was happy that we were all excited and surprised and said he hoped that, as hard as it could be in the era of spoilers and the internet, we all kept the twist a surprise until the movie came out. He was asking several thousand people to a movie festival for months a secret from the world for months . I immediately pulled out my phone, and took up Twitter and searched "Unbreakable."
There were tweets. Things like “ Split is a secret sequel to Unbreakable !” “If you love Unbreakable you have to see Split !” I was disgusted. I knew movie news sites would pick that up and use the spoiler for their own benefit, and in the process the possibility of other people having the electrifying experience I just had. That's just the world we live in.
But, after Shyamalan said that, the tweets went away. Or at least were buried and forgotten. Time passed and though I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, neither I nor the other attendees of the festival did. It stayed secret. Soon, Split opened and was a hit, which allowed Shyamalan to complete his master plan, bringing everyone back together for what would become Glass . I even got to talk to him about the reveal at the time, which you can read here.
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And so, with great anticipation, I sat down in a theater last week and saw the ending of a story that has many great memories attached to it for me. And now, it didn't turn out how hopefully I was. But if having Glass means I get to relive that incredible evening in September 2016 again and tell you all about it? Well, it's worth it
Glass is in theaters Friday. Unbreakable and Split are now on DVD and Blu-ray.
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