Glasshouse is the type of movie where everything is a reflection. Scenes play like other scenes, images look like other images, and tones feel like other tones. In a film with more coherency, this might be a compliment. After all, a tightly wound film that reflects itself can only perpetuate itself. It can only make itself more believable in the eyes of the viewer. Glasshouse is not one of those films.
Glasshouse picks up in an isolated world. It picks up in a glass house inhabited by a number of women (Jessica Alexander, Kitty Harris, Anja Taljaard and more), and their brother. They stay there in order to avoid The Shred, an airborne disease that destroys the memories of those who take it in. Soon, a man (Hilton Pelser) from the outside finds his way onto the property. He could be a danger, or he could be their salvation. What he brings will fundamentally change their world.
Unfortunately, the journey towards that change feels dramatically inert. As high-concept as the premise is, Glasshouse often finds itself running over familiar territory. The scenes do not flow smoothly from scene to scene, and much of the second act feels stagnant. It’s a reflection, you simply see the same emotional register over and over again. I will say there are props for consistency, but like all entertaining things, a film needs to ebb and flow. Without sufficient change, everything stops. When everything stops, only confusion enters.
That confusion is especially damaging in a film like Glasshouse. The different associations of the characters, and the extended explanations of their standing within the world make it difficult to fully grasp the allegory at hand. What allegory is easy to grasp soon becomes muddled, or even disturbing in its simplicity. Glasshouse leans heavily on mythological storytelling to create the ins and outs of its story, and the shallow nature of its thematic aims feels unsatisfying. Different ideas about relationships, gender roles within society, and the madness of insular thought are brought up, but they are never fully explored. The film ends on a strange note that seems to suggest a sinister answer to the question.
For all of that, the technical work, and craft of the actors holds true. Glasshouse has a beautiful, blown-out look that gives it a dreamy quality. Director Kelsey Egan, and her cinematographer (Justus de Jager), fill the appropriately anamorphic frame with lush greenery, and stark white light. The image is helped by the fact that Egan and company frame for the distortion. They allow whatever artifacts to give the frame a woozy quality.
The same goes for the actors. The performances on display here feel alien, but that is appropriate. The contorted lines of the family’s social boundaries makes for a rather perverse time, so perverse performances match up nicely. The story surrounding the actors does not hold up the same quality, but at least they are able to hold the movie up a bit.
If it were not refracted to the point of being emotionally unintelligible, Glasshouse could work. The high-concept, the actors, and the beautiful anamorphic frames suggest a film that does. Instead, the story repeats its own beats, and shatters whatever coherence it could have. As it draws to a close, with its “happy” ending, Glasshouse feels overburdened by its own want for mythical importance. It has cracked into something languid.
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