In a world of lockdowns, multiple quarantines, pandemics, civil unrest, and an abundance of ignorance, this small, sealed off feature further taps into our times. The loneliness of our times. And definitely the isolation of our times. Not the first film to accomplish this feat during this tumultuous year, but an adequate feat nevertheless. You think the creators and even South Africa itself (where this was filmed) knew something we didn’t? Because this was incredibly close to home in quite a few regards. Art imitating life once again. Certainly plenty of material for it that’s for sure.
Deceit, manipulations, secrets, traditions, and memories rattle around amongst the gothic, eerie, and mean-spirited in Glasshouse (2021); a science fiction film with minimal sci-fi elements, a blanket of commentary, and a plethora of oddities that never truly reach beyond its foundation to the substantial. As the story goes, in the distant future, civilization has been wiped out because of an airborne toxin called The Shred, which erases people’s memories until they become either mental and emotional vegetables or ravenous monsters with zero connection to humanity or who they once were. In this time, a traditional family is living far from any cities in the woods and sealed inside their own maintained glasshouse. They spend the days working on said house, avoiding exposure, planting fruits and vegetables to nourish themselves as they live, learn, and keep their various folk rituals going to sustain their sanity and memories. But of course, everything is thrown into disarray for the suspicious family when a mysterious stranger arrives, threatening to distupt and destroy everything they’ve spent years building together.
The story is dark and grim, but excruciatingly slow for being a short film and surprisingly listless given the subject matter. It does a great job in capturing a quiet yet dismal future, especially nowadays when this type of setting and themes have a significant air of authenticity to them. These end time scenarios speak and connect to us on another level because in many ways we’re living it. Every single day. The uncertainty and fear always rampant. Our homes becoming literal prisons, exacerbating our isolation, torment, and inner demons. Testing our resolve like never before. This feature nails that element strongly, adding what it means to create, establish, sacrifice, and unfortunately lose your memories. How it’s apart of your body’s natural ability to grow and function properly. The importance of holding onto your very thoughts, beliefs, convictions, and choices for dear life, even in the darkest of times.
Unfortunately beyond that, the story honestly doesn’t really do much else with what it has, settling on this rather somber, routine melodrama with bits of terribleness sprinkled throughout. Maybe I was looking for a bit more thrills and chills instead of a messed up version of Little House on the Prairie (1974). But I just couldn’t completely connect with this story, even when the harsher twists and turns reared their ugly heads, transmogrifying this indie into another creature entirely.
Previous fares have done a few of these concepts far better in the past. The low-budget ingenuity of Host (2020) or the thrilling visceralness of #Alive (2020) comes to mind. Two films that not only captured the essence of the current and apocalyptic pandemics yet had tons more to expose you to beyond its original plotline. Here? Not so much. I honestly don’t even recall a majority of the performances here. They were all fairly average except for little Kitty Harris as the youngest in the family; the cutesy and adorably savage Daisy. She was the standout while the rest? Barely remember their names. Even though, it wasn’t really their names at all. One of the few twists that came way too late to make a difference.
Bottom line, this creepy but bore of a story could grow into significance over time as its presentation is palpable enough to merit a curious viewing. If anything else, it acts as another statement to where our society could lead to passed these gruelling and tumultuous years. A commentative reminder, wrapped in an overall mediocre film. Regardless though, as I said before; Art imitating life. There’s certainly enough material for it at the moment. Just need better executions of said material than this. Because this tale isn’t a memory worth holding onto.
Glasshouse (2021) is playing as part of the Fantasia Festival – https://fantasiafestival.com/fr/film/glasshouse
Review written by Marcus Wilturner