Oh, what might have been.
Director Kelsey Egan’s first full-length feature, Glasshouse, is a beautifully filmed dystopian tale. An airborne pandemic known as The Shred takes its toll by robbing people of their memory and, eventually, almost all mental capacity.
The focus is on a family of women and one Shred-infected boy (Brent Vermeulen) whose refuge is a conservatory – a hermetically sealed glass house, if you will – where toxins are kept out and memories remain mostly intact, thanks to a dinnertime recitation and other rituals orchestrated by the mother (Adrienne Pearce).
To preserve their premises and safety, older sisters Evie (Anja Taljaard) and Bee (Jess Alexander), wearing homemade oxygen masks, routinely patrol outside and shoot intruders on sight. They then use the bodies for macabre practices, from glue-making to garden pollination to tea party games with youngest daughter Daisy (Kitty Harris).
Everything changes when Bee elects to drag in an ailing male intruder (Hilton Pelser), who may or may not be their missing older brother Luca. To reveal much more would be a disservice for those of you inclined to give Glasshouse a peek.
Filmed at an actual conservatory in South Africa, the look of this movie is nothing short of sumptuous. The house is as gorgeous as you might imagine, and the grounds evoke a sense of serenity at odds with reality. There are lovely gardens bathed in sunlight and forested surroundings that serve both as luscious backdrop and cloak of isolation.
Though staged as contemporary drama, the clothing is Edwardian, adding to the film’s mystique.
The premise is intriguing, the musical score at once enchanting and foreboding. And the ensemble cast is terrific, blessed with resonant dialogue.
So, what went wrong?
Well, let’s keep this short and (not so) sweet.
To say Glasshouse moves at a snail’s pace is an insult to snails. Slow as molasses? Insult to molasses. Sloth-like? Uh, you get the picture. It has a run time of 97 minutes, but it feels like days.
Despite director Egan’s best intentions, what could have been a precious gem sadly settles for polished turd. Vaguely reminiscent of The Beguiled, originally starring Clint Eastwood and then with Colin Farrell in a remake, Glasshouse lacks that film’s character development and suspense. It’s not nearly as beguiling. (See what I did there?)
Pretty picture it is. Compelling (or scary, for that matter) it is not.
Ultimately, you’re forced to the conclusion that Glasshouse shatters under the weight of its looooong drawn-out pretentiousness. And that’s a waste considering all the assets at Egan’s disposal.
As said at the beginning, oh what might have been.