Fantasia 2021: Stepping Inside the GLASSHOUSE

A dramatic thriller that blurs the lines between its fantasy and our reality.

I can remember reading an interview that author Jacquelyn Mitchard gave regarding a novel she’d written about a lost child called “The Deep End of the Ocean.” She summarized one of the themes of the book as being about how memory plays such a strong part in a person’s existence. In her eyes, people tend to define themselves based on what they remember. The new dramatic South African thriller Glasshouse expands on this idea in a way perhaps Mitchard couldn’t have foreseen with a film which draws on both the haunting power of memory and the current anxieties of today.

Premiering at this year’s Fantasia Fest, Glasshouse takes place in a society that has been living in the midst of a pandemic for years. The disease in question is known as “The Shred,” a toxin in the air which causes those it hits to lose their memory, potentially turning them dangerous as they become what is known as “The Forgotten.” Secluded in a remote forrest, a family (Jessica Alexander, Kitty Harris, Adrienne Pearce, Anja Taljaard and Brent Vermeulen) have so far managed to survive by creating their own safe, sustainable world. While the habitat they’ve made for themselves has kept them alive, the outside soon finds a way in thanks to the appearance of a mysterious stranger (Hilton Pelser)

Director and co-writer Kelsey Egan can certainly claim to have made one of the fest’s most intriguing and visceral films with her entry. Glasshouse is that rare kind of beast that’s rich in both character and plot while offering up one gorgeous shot after another. Each member of the tight-knit family that we encounter has been well-drawn to ensure that no one in this small ensemble feels wasted or peripheral. The script gives everyone plenty of purpose while allowing them each a bit of mystery that’s all their own, resulting in one sterling performance after another. The motif of having the events play out against the backdrop of a pandemic is done effectively enough without having to draw too much on the fears people have lived with over the past year and a half. Instead, Egan uses the idea of memories and how contact with the toxins have determined just how much those who have been exposed are able to know and forget. This of course leads to the kind of suspense which gives Glasshouse a quiet intensity that saves it from exploiting the full on horrors of the current worldwide situation and instead lets the film explore the human side of it.

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