I love that feeling when you experience a great film that seems to have come out from nowhere. I knew absolutely nothing about Glasshouse other than that it was a film set after an apocalyptic event. What I was expecting was something like Mad Max or The Hunger Games, what I wasn’t expecting was a beautiful film that looked more at human emotion and instinct rather than it did action pieces.
Directed by Kelsey Egan, Glasshouse takes its name from a house of glass that a family, led by an aging mother (Adrienne Pearce), call home after an event called The Shred, which swept across the Earth, wiping people’s memory. Worried that the toxins are still in the air, the family won’t venture outside unless wearing a mask.
For the most part, the family, which includes sisters Bea (Jessica Alexander), Evie (Anja Taljaard) and Daisy (Kitty Harris) have lived a good life happily growing plants, although still longing for their brother who is out in the wilderness. Things have taken a turn for the worst, as the family worry about their autistic brother, Gabe (Brent Vermeule) who is showing signs of violence as he gets older. Bea and Evie convince their mother that they are more than equipped to look after him.
Things take an even bigger turn when Bea rescues an injured, nameless man (Hilton Pelser), finding him on the perimeter of their land. Gabe takes an instant dislike to the man, while Bea finds herself drawn to him. Could he be their brother or is he someone that means harm to a family that have found their paradise?
I found there is a true beauty to Glasshouse. There is a distinct alternative ‘period-feel’ to the film that it is reminiscent of Alfonso Cuaron’s Great Expectations. The plants and artwork inside the glasshouse allow for some beautiful shots that have been captured by cinematographer Justus de Jager, which is a stark opposite to what is often happening in those scenes – including violence between Gabe and The Stranger.
That beauty is also a contrast to the violence that occurs throughout the film that the family basically says is needed to protect their property. It is not uncommon for a shot to feature the beauty of the garden and then come to rest on a hacked-up body of someone whom Bea or Evie have caught trying to break in. That same beauty also distracts the audience from a family, that despite saying they are so loving, are more than willing to chain-up their autistic brother to a bed if they feel he may be a danger to them or himself.
I found this to be a film that takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster, given that there is almost a sense of madness to the world and the ‘paradise’ that the family live in. At times, I found myself wondering on whether there was really an apocalyptic event or whether this was simply a way for Mother to keep her family safe. That element, plus the fact that you never really know who you can trust, made for a captivating type of suspense, almost unrelenting throughout the entire film.
That suspense rises even further with the arrival of The Stranger. Early on after his arrival you are not sure whether he is a danger to the family or whether the two teenagers are going to start an almost Nurse Ratched style relationship with him.
Jessica Alexander and Anja Taljaard are brilliant with sultry and emotional performances, while Brent Vermeulen is sensational as the troubled Gabe. Many of his scenes would have been quite difficult to have pulled off and he deserves an unending amount of credit.
Glasshouse is a film full of emotion that I found to keep me completely on edge throughout. At times harsh, at times erotic, the one thing that Glasshouse certainly isn’t is disappointing. This was a brilliant piece of cinema from a director that I cannot wait to see more from.
Glasshouse is screening as part of the Fantasia Film Festival until the 25th of August.