We review pandemic-themed sci-fi Glasshouse, and it turns out it’s much more enjoyable than it sounds.
If someone said ‘watch this film about plague survivors,’ I’d have gestured to the world and gone ‘are you out of your fudging mind?’ But, we live in surreal times: face masks aren’t just for ninjas anymore. We’ve created a whole new form of social torture with Zoom – where parties that aren’t really parties exist – so yes, I’m telling you to watch a film about plague survivors, in the middle of a pandemic.
The opening shot of Glasshouse shows a single green patch of land in a desert. It is the only shot of the world outside we get, before we’re locked into a tight single-location sci-fi. No endless CGI cityscapes the colour of grim, no fallen landmarks, no gangs of cannibals… er, actually, scrap that last one. The outside world is the past, a myth, lost. All that matters is staying safe within it so The Shred can’t find you.
A mother and her four children are trapped in an endless routine of survival (stick with me), struggling against waves of fear and loss (I mean it, don’t go) until a stranger arrives and it gets weird. There’s a tea party that would give Norman Bates a run for his money, extremely questionable mothering, and some holistic gardening techniques that would raise an eyebrow on Gardeners’ Question Time. But everything is done with such a wonderfully light touch that doesn’t leave you brutalised and in need of some heavy-duty soul bleach.
The unique set and costume design creates a surreal fairy-tale atmosphere that carries you along in a beautiful haze (including hazmat helmets that wouldn’t lookout of place on Little House On The Prairie). That stylised approach has gorgeous symmetry with the theme of the film, which is memory.
At some points I felt like I was watching someone else’s memory. The painted glass windows that glare from on high, the rituals –even the songs the children sing as they pick peas – everything is used to ‘remember’ and it adds a haunting atmosphere to the film. Writer/director Kelsey Egan has brought a fresh take on the ‘end of days’ genre here (not an easy task), with a modest budget and a young cast. That it was done during a worldwide pandemic is impressive. A director to watch out for.
So why not five stars? Well. Towards the end there were so many secret reveals slapping you round the noggin that they started to lose their punch. As with real life, less is more when it comes to horrific family secrets; even Hollyoaks has the good grace to space them out over a week.
This is a film filled with charming and gruesome touches alike, and you don’t get to say that very often. If you enjoy thought-provoking, insightful and well-acted soft sci-fi, I would highly recommend it.
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