Initially playing out like a post-apocalyptic version of The Beguiled, Kelsey Egan’s Glasshouse quickly comes into its own with its intriguing world-building and exquisite production design. Although its final reveals will likely divide audiences and take some time to process, it remains an ambitious and unique drama that’s able to rise above its shortcomings.
Co-written by Egan and Emma Lungiswa De Wet, Glasshouse takes place in a non-specific time when the world is ravaged by an airborne disease known as The Shred, which causes those infected to suffer severe memory loss; the longer they’re exposed the worse it becomes until they’re devoid of any thought and they no longer retain any memories.
Though the world is ravaged by this horrific toxin, deep in the forest is a refuge: a glass house where a family lives in relative tranquility, bound by rituals and a series of rules to help them survive. Led by their mother, three siblings work on maintaining an airtight seal around the house, tending to the garden that produces their fresh air and keeping watch to protect their home from anyone who happens to wander onto the property. Anyone foolish enough to do so gets a bullet to the face and promptly turned into glue and fertilizer by the family.
The family’s comfortable dynamic is disrupted, however, when a charismatic stranger (Hilton Pelser) appears on their property, and daughter Bee (Jessica Alexander) decides to not only spare his life but to bring him into their domicile. Unbeknownst to Bee and the rest of the women, this sets in motion a series of events that threatens to topple everything their matriarch created.
Glasshouse doesn’t carry a typical dystopian aesthetic. Despite exhibiting a present where humanity is rapidly dying out, where the women live is a world teeming with life as they toil away at their beautiful garden sanctuary and surrounded by lush overgrowth. The gorgeous house that’s nestled away in the forest looks like a giant terrarium, adorned with painted murals on the glass and a classic Victorian vibe.
This look lends itself nicely to the world-building, which is the film’s most alluring characteristic. We don’t know how The Shred happened or how long it’s been ravaging humanity. We don’t know what the rest of the world looks like either, but there are certain context clues that paint a stark picture. We also don’t know when or why the family began these strange rituals, but like any well crafted story, these missing pieces add more intrigue to the overall narrative, as if Egan and De Wet already have all these answers but know that revealing them isn’t vital to the story.
Things get considerably more complicated in the final act as darker truths are revealed, and although it might lose some people at this point, to me it seems like a fitting conclusion. As brutal as it may be, we must do what we have to to continue humanity’s existence.
There’s a love triangle aspect of Glasshouse that doesn’t necessarily work and the overall setting is far more compelling than many of the specific beats, but this is still an interesting story that marks an incredibly promising future for director Kelsey Egan.