DIRECTOR: Kelsey Egan

CAST: Jessica Alexander, Anja Taljaard, Hilton Pelser, Adrienne Pearce, Kitty Harris, Brent Vermeulen

RUNNING TIME: 94 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A family that is sheltering from a mysterious virus falls into danger when a stranger (Pelser) arrives…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

With its themes of isolation and paranoia, not to mention the lingering threat of an airborne virus with unknown capabilities, it’s easy to see where writer-director Kelsey Egan got her primary real-world inspiration for her debut feature Glasshouse – that, and she probably watched both Don Siegel and Sofia Coppola’s versions of The Beguiled back-to-back during lockdown, and decided that would form the basis for her own dystopian thriller.

Set in a world that has apparently been ravaged by a virus known as The Shred, which causes people to slowly lose their memories along with their mental capacity, we spend the entirety of Glasshouse in, well, a glass house – one that is occupied by a mother (Adrienne Pearce), her daughters Bee (Jessica Alexander), Evie (Anja Taljaard) and Daisy (Kitty Harris), and her son Gabe (Brent Vermeulen) who has been exposed to the virus and is basically now an invalid. The family runs a strict regime to keep themselves safe from the Shred, including not going outside without a protective helmet, hand-pollinating indoor plants that produce enough oxygen for them to survive, and shooting any “forgetters” stumbling onto their land at first sight. One day, though, Bee spots a wounded stranger (Hilton Pelser) wandering outside without anything protecting him, and she decides to go against her family’s rules and bring him inside; all too quickly, though, the impressionable daughters find themselves more and more drawn to the handsome stranger, and eventually the whole family is drawn into a dangerous mind game that may or may not be a cause of the virus.

Egan’s dystopian vision is an eerie one, blending a dream-like collection of old-timey sensibilities – including sets and costume designs that are straight out of Victorian/Edwardian fare like not just The Beguiled but also The Railway Children or Picnic at Hanging Rock – with occasional creepy imagery that’s straight out of a gory nightmare, with characters having tea parties with a corpse that’s had its arms and legs chopped off. While intriguing to look at, there is surprisingly not a lot of consistency between these rapidly-flowing movements, which lead to a somewhat imbalanced nature that leave you uncertain of certain things until the closing moments. There’s a lot that Egan wants to throw into the mix, whether it’s the strong hints of cannibalism (well, this family does need to get a source of protein somehow) or even possible incest within this family, to a point where you aren’t entirely sure what the core focus is meant to be.

The number of interesting ideas that Egan and co-writer Emma Lungiswa De Wet have at their disposal perhaps spill over, enough to where you’re a little lost trying to find the overarching theme of the entire story, but it’s a handsomely made project that makes the most of its singular location and noticeable low-budget. Shot primarily in South Africa, although the film seems to intentionally be geographically ambiguous (save for some of the local actors’ accents which occasionally slip), Glasshouse features some neatly moody cinematography which builds upon the eeriness which Egan distils in her story, and some interestingly underplayed performances – among them Jessica Alexander, soon to be seen in festival horror hit A Banquet as well as Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid – that keep you guessing until everything comes to a head. Occasionally, the budget limitations hinder its chances of turning completely into a world-building exercise, since again we are stuck in this one isolated location for the entire movie, but there’s enough substance in the visuals, acting and the creepy tone to fill many of those desires to see more of this weird post-apocalyptic future.

Artistically and stylistically, it’s certainly a number of steps above other COVID-sploitation outings (here, the COVID-19 virus is briefly mentioned on a magazine cover near the beginning, which I suppose makes this one of those movies too, albeit barely), but if it’s truly engrossing and impactful storytelling you’re after, Glasshouse is decent but not enough to linger long in the memory afterwards.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Glasshouse offers some artistically and stylistically pleasing material to position it as higher-brow COVID-sploitation, though its inconsistent and overcrowded storytelling sometimes gets in its own way.

Glasshouse is now available to rent/buy on digital platforms, including Amazon Prime Video.

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