With Glasshouse, Kelsey Egan has conjured a beautifully haunting film. This dystopian fairytale weaves quite a tragic tale highlighted by the excellent performances and strong use of storytelling. Egan marks herself out as a filmmaker to watch out for.
A dementia induced toxin known as the Shred has enveloped the world with a family led by Mother (Adrienne Pearce) and her son Gabe (Brent Vermeulen) and three daughters, Bee (Jessica Alexander), level headed Evie (Anja Taljaard) and young Daisy (Kitty Harris) making existence in a large glasshouse in a secluded location. Wary and with a shoot on sight order for strangers, Bee allows an injured stranger (Hilton Pelser) into their isolated dwelling.
Glasshouse does so wonderfully well that it allows enough mystery on both sides to come to the fore. The stranger carries an obvious sinister mystery about him. Seeing as he is entering a world of mostly women, we fear them. Yet, we also have a slight fear for him. We know what the family is capable of and what they do to keep their lives going, so who has fallen into who’s trap? If someone has fallen into a trap, are they able to get out of it without causing too much or any harm to the others in this already fragile ecosystem? Writers Emma Lungiswa De Wet and Egan leave us guessing for long periods until their satisfying conclusion by keeping the audience on their toes.
The very minimal yet ethereal score by Patrick Cannell eases itself in and out of Glasshouse, to the point where you just about notice its presence. The gentle plucking’s of what seems to be a harp flutter around the background as we witness this fairytale take place, with only the dense strings coming in every so often to accompany what we are seeing. The opening exemplifies this as we watch the family go about their business in a carefree manner, far too carefree for what they are doing—wisely picking and choosing when to seep into our consciousness in such a gentle fashion. When the percussion sounds come in towards the end of the film and the tension builds, you become more alert to the score as it becomes louder. Making its presence felt more and more, but never tries to overbear us, just wonderful work all around.
All of the cast do faultless work as they navigate their characters through the story. The six all have very distinctive characters with differing storylines, and all do tremendously well with them. For example, Jessica Alexander gives Bee that broken yet hopeful feeling as memories creep back into her consciousness. She wants to find happiness in this lost world and will do whatever she can to keep it. On the other side, Anja Taljaard’s Evie has to take on the responsibility that Bee left behind in the search for hope, and as such, the pressures of that coupled with what she thinks she has to do for Gabe heartbreakingly strike you.
Adrienne Pearces Mother gets more ominous as Glasshouse goes on as she keeps her distance from the stranger and her daughters, almost allowing for actions to occur until she feels she has to step in. The feeling that she knows more than she lets on to anyone aids in pushing the mystery of the piece. With Hilton Pelsers strangers, as mentioned, we feel suspicious of him and his intentions from the start, and Pelser does very well at not pushing that narrative too much while keeping himself sympathetic.
Kerry Van Lillienfeld’s gorgeous production design is one of the standouts here as the cluttered glasshouse is adapted into a home for our characters. This well-lived dwelling is as much a character to Glasshouse as the actual actors are. Justus de Jager’s lens perfectly softly captures this. Even when we witness some rather gruesome moments, it never feels real due to that distant, dreamlike aesthetic we have been presented with.
Kelsey Egan’s film is so careful that you are afraid to break like the world that has been built up so well. You feel it could have been adapted from a play for a lot of Glasshouse due to its capsule setting. However, she wisely allows the characters to play out their roles without ever wanting to cut away too much. Shots linger as our characters ponder what is happening at every moment, we are allowed to see their emotions, and it stays with you as an audience member as a result. For a feature debut, Egan shows a lot of confidence here, and without a doubt, she has a strong future if she can create something like this.
Glasshouse is a fantastic film that is one of the year’s highlights thus far; however, you can see this film, make sure you do it with haste.
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