So many pandemic-set films since the beginning of COVID-19 are about the immediacy of it. The near-instantaneous feeling that everything has changed without the time to possibly reckon with what’s happened. Kelsey Egan’s Glasshouse takes the opposite approach: what happens to us if the pandemic has lasted so long that our recollection of the Before Times fades away, or changes entirely?
Early on in Glasshouse, there’s a shot of a magazine with the title, “Can We Survive?: The Age of Pandemics”. Below, it lists the illnesses that have killed so many: MERS, SARS, COVID-19, Crobe, and finally, The Shred, the disease responsible for the current state of the world. It’s an airborne toxin that causes memory loss and dementia. To weather the seemingly neverending storm, a family led by Mother (Adrienne Pearce) has barricaded themselves within the titular location and sealed it off, creating their own insulated community full of traditions and rules. Anyone who dares approach their sanctuary is shot by one of Mothers’ three daughters — Bee (Jessica Alexander), Evie (Anja Taljaard), and Daisy (Kitty Harris) — depending on which of them is keeping watch. The four of them are accompanied by their brother Gabe (Brent Vermeulen), whose mind is deteriorating after getting exposed to The Shred long ago.
It’s Bee’s turn to keep watch when a wounded stranger (Hilton Pelser) walks into view. Instead of shooting him on sight, she takes him into the glasshouse to allow him to heal. That’s when the comparisons to The Beguiled truly come into focus, as Bee becomes intoxicated with the unnamed man. Although, Evie remains very skeptical of this mysterious trespasser and his intentions, and their society begins to unwind under the mounting sexual tension and deceit.
You wish that Glasshouse was as absorbing in practice as this sounds. Kelsey Egan and her co-screenwriter Emma Lungiswa De Wet struggle to add a level of murkiness to this story. Character motivations are always abundantly clear which zaps a lot of the film’s narrative weight. The performances are rarely intoxicating either — they’re either stilted, exaggerated, or a little of both, leaving the film’s score to attempt to compensate with overbearing swells. More of a surrealist touch would have done wonders for Glasshouse, which is oddly straightforward and clear for a movie about fading and changing memories.
Those ideas are still somewhat poignant, though, despite the film’s less than stellar composition. For a few of the characters, the worst fate isn’t losing their memory, it’s keeping it and reconciling with all the suffering they’ve seen and caused. Glasshouse is just a little too rough around the edges for this to pack a serious punch, especially on the heels of Chad Hartigan’s heartbreaking memory-loss pandemic film, Little Fish.
For more information on Glasshouse and other films playing at the Fantasia Film Festival, check out their website.
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