Glasshouse is, at first blush, something of a post-apocalyptic spin on The Beguiled: The existential equilibrium of a group of women within a protected sanctuary is thrown off balance by the arrival of an attractive man. It’s horny without being salacious and intense without being particularly violent. The story grapples with similar themes of truth, trust and dangerous lust. Although it’s a little too methodical for its own good, the commitment to setting, some great performances and its well-paced final reveals make it worth a watch.
In The Beguiled (and the novel upon which it was based), the women in question were Southern seminary students tempted by the wiles of a wounded Union soldier. In Kelsey Egan’s Glasshouse, the women are a family of girls and their seriously ill younger brother living inside the titular “glass house,” which protects them from a hyper-transmissible virus that has destroyed civilization. “The Shred,” as they call it, causes men and women alike to develop severe dementia. Bee (Jessica Alexander), Evie (Anja Taljaard) and Daisy (Kitty Harris) live with Mother (Adrienne Pearce), an older woman who keeps her daughters in line through old stories passed down through generations. Those stories have power, and they’re devoted to telling them, day in and day out.
The world outside is dangerous, of course. Wanderers — called “forgetters” — occasionally happen upon their sanctuary and often meet a violent end. That is until the Stranger (Hilton Pelser) appears. He’s tall, dark and handsome, and he claims to be their long-lost brother, Gabe. He’s initially incapacitated but soon finds himself an object of affection and an increasingly powerful player within the household. The fragile reality shared by Mother and her girls starts to shift into something new altogether. Memory isn’t a static thing.
There are moments in Glasshouse where the movie feels almost patient to a fault. That’s not a euphemism for “boring.” Rather, there are clear directions in which the story is headed, but Egan luxuriates in the microcosmic apocalypses her characters experience. Perhaps too much. The thriller side of the equation suffers a bit in the middle act when it could be a bit more quickly paced.
Then again, it’s hard to blame her. The glass house is its own little world, and its stained-glass windows chronicle the story of Mother’s family; duties cleaning keep the girls busy and allow characters to see different spaces within. Costume designer Catherine McIntosh’s contribution also shines throughout the film, creating clothing for the women that mixes old and new. It’s not exactly steampunk but leans in that direction at times. Their outfits for leaving the house are essentially beekeeper outfits with tanks. It’s all very pretty (and very cool to look at) and distinct in its influences.
Of course these days, a post-pandemic plot plays less like speculative science-fiction and more like a direct commentary on the way we’ve lived the past few years. Egan and company are smart enough to find their message through their characters and stories, and I found the contemplation of living memory very moving in the context of what our world has been experiencing over time. To go into any more depth would spoil a lot of the story, but it’s an effective blend of social commentary and genre storytelling.
Comparing Glasshouse to The Beguiled isn’t meant to downplay this film’s own successes and unique elements by any means, but it’s a valuable comparison in another way: If you’ve seen either version of the film, you can imagine the way Glasshouse paces itself and whether it’s the type of thriller that is right for you. Its faults are largely in its middle-act pacing, but its strengths more than make up for that. This is a smart, well-acted and well-designed thriller that has something to say and does so effectively.