Atmospheric and spooky, Glasshouse (2021) is a South African sci-fi thriller set in a post-pandemic world. The film is the feature-length directorial debut of Kelsey Egan, who also co-wrote the script with Emma Lungiswa de Wet.
What’s the story?
Glasshouse (2021) tells the story of a family who stay confined within their glasshouse to avoid The Shred – a toxin which erases the memory of anyone who breathes it in.
The self-sufficient family is completely sealed off from the outside world, and the ‘forgetters’ who wander lost outside its boundaries.
That is, of course, until one of the sisters, Bee (Jessica Alexander), invites a mysterious stranger (superbly played by Hilton Pelser) into their home. His arrival quickly changes the family dynamic, which ultimately brings long-buried secrets to the surface.
An impressive cast
The central focus of the film is the relationship between sisters Bee and Evie (Anja Taljaard), and how it develops after the arrival of the stranger. Both Jessia Alexander and Anja Taljaard give strong performances as the sisters who have their relationship turned upside down. Evie in particular goes through a significant change in the course of the film and Taljaard’s intense performance brings the character to life.
Hilton Pelser too is excellent as the mysterious stranger and does well to slowly reveal the true nature of his character as the story progresses. There is no simple good or evil in the story and the complicated nature of the characters leaves the viewer unsure of whose ‘side’ they are on throughout.
An atmospheric, dystopian folk story
The film ties together themes from various genres including dystopian science fiction, folk and horror and Gothic melodrama.
The innocence of the folk-like songs, the virginal white dresses and the family traditions contrast heavily with the sex, violence and lies that also run throughout the family. This disparity of these themes is clear from the beginning as the girls sing a haunting song while cutting up the body of a man they have killed after he came onto their land.
The importance of memory
Memory, and the potential loss of it, is at the centre of this film.
While some characters cling to their traditions and place the importance of themselves on remembering, others see the benefits of wiping memories away and it’s an interesting look at the different ways people deal with traumatic events in their past.
An impressive feature-length debut
There’s a lot left unanswered by the end.
SPOILERS We never see outside the boundaries of the glasshouse, we never find out what The Shred is or who/what has caused it and there’s no background given to the family but the unknown adds to the film’s foreboding feeling.
It does feel like the movie stops short of shocking the viewer as much as intended, but it’s an impressive feature-length debut for director Kelsey Egan and the film gains a lot of strength from its cast and the atmospheric setting.
Artwork: Richard Williams