Unbreakable review – supernatural thriller that sends you on a frantic mental scurry

Lingers potently in the mind for hours, and somehow without its flaws, eccentricities and longueurs it would not be the film it is

This compelling conundrum of a film marks the maturity of Sixth Sense director M Night Shyamalan as a distinctive, even a remarkable film-maker. Every scene, every frame of this deeply strange and intriguing movie is permeated with a mood and a feel that the writer-producer-director effortlessly establishes as his signature. In some ways, Unbreakable is an unfinished, unrealised film, but it lingers potently in the mind for hours, and somehow without its flaws, eccentricities and longueurs it would not be the film it is.

Like The Sixth Sense, this is a supernatural thriller with a twist, starring Bruce Willis. The ending will also send you on a frantic mental scurry back to the beginning to check you have got everything right. But unlike The Sixth Sense, there is ambiguity: we are not sure quite how much we've seen is illusory. And crucially, the whole idea of the twist - the surprise ending that the critic cannot reveal - is diluted in intensity but enlarged in scope. In Unbreakable, the ending is arguably the twist, but then so arguably is the middle and the beginning too - along with the whole genre of the film. Perhaps Unbreakable is one enormous twist!

Anyway, Willis is David, a security guard who, astonishingly, emerges utterly unscathed from a horrific train crash that kills everyone else. Then he receives an unsettling message from Elijah, a comic book collector and connoisseur with a genetic disorder which means that his bones break at the slightest mishap. Elijah believes he is the alter ego of David, and just as he is condemned to a life of pain and vulnerability, so David is unbreakable; so Elijah passionately urges him to cultivate his destiny as a 21st century superhero.

Samuel L Jackson plays Elijah, and gives a terrific performance - his best since Pulp Fiction. His bizarre, angular presence shimmers with charisma. And Shyamalan gets excellent work from fellow Pulp Fiction graduate, Willis. Their relationship is a pairing that works superbly, and their story progresses with its own bizarre realist logic.

At the end Unbreakable feels oddly like a first "collector's issue" comic, introducing the superhero and setting him up for a long series. So it is unsatisfyingly incomplete in itself, but any sequel in that vein that Shyamalan might give us would spoil the original's mystery and enigma. Nevertheless it is a fascinating film. I am preparing to pay to see it again - and I can't say fairer than that.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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