[This post contains SPOILERS for Split.]
Ever since The Sixth Sense hit screens back in 1999, M. Night Shyamalan has long trumpeted a penchant for twist endings. It’s a reputation that hasn’t always worked in his favor — see 2008’s critically panned The Happening — but he recently pulled off one of the most unprecedented shockers of his career. Split, his new James McAvoy-fronted thriller, has a surprise connection to his 2000 flick Unbreakable.
The movie has since earned the director some of his best reviews in over a decade and become a certified box office smash, grossing $141.9 million worldwide on a $9 million production budget. Shyamalan has already teased plans for a proper follow-up, writing on Twitter that he has an 11-page outline ready for development.
What would such an endeavor entail? Well, Shyamalan recently stopped by Josh Horowitz’s podcast HappySadConfused to share a few details. He was pretty vague on specifics, but he did offer up what Dunn could have been thinking upon learning of the Horde. As he told Horowitz:
“My thought bubble would be—again don’t hold me to this—but Elijah never got out of the institution. He was just a guy who believed this, but David doesn’t quite 100 percent believe it that way, he just thinks that he is particularly meant to do this and is kind of faded a little bit. Like this idea of comic books that Elijah was saying the comic book world is based on reality, that it’s real—there’s no other evidence for this. It’s this crazy guy who has this bone disorder who’s in an insane asylum. But then this comes up and he’s like, ‘Oh my God, he’s right.’”
He also confirmed Samuel Jackson would be on board to reprise his role as Mr. Glass, and that he initially had more tie-ins to Unbreakable throughout the film, but later decided against them. He wants the next project to follow suit with Split in that it works just as well as a standalone. He continued:
“All I can say is this: If Unbreakable was about a guy who is the only person who survives a train wreck, everyone dies and he doesn’t have a scratch on him. How is that possible? That’s a high concept, really cool story. And then this one is three girls get abducted by a person that has this disorder that he believes he’s many people, and all of the different personalities are saying there’s another personality coming to get them, it’s called The Beast. That in and of itself is a really cool thing. This third movie needs to have its own idea. The high concept of that final movie can’t be, ‘It’s the final Unbreakable.’ There has to be something about that that makes it its own movie… That’s when I’ll be happiest, is when it’s its own movie. In a way it could be watched by itself.”
It’s an interesting approach. Part of what worked so well about Split is that it was compelling on its own. Viewers needn’t have seen Unbreakable to enjoy the movie; its final moments were just a bonus. Still, the twist’s success relied on fans not knowing the connection beforehand, which won’t be the case heading into Shyamalan’s next installment. It’s certainly possible he could craft another captivating standalone, but would it be at the sacrifice of context? At some point, he’ll need to tie everything together in more than a 30-second scene, which may include bringing in a little backstory. It’s a delicate — and complex — web to navigate, but Shyamalan has proved he can handle high concept story lines. Let’s hope Split is just the beginning of his comeback.