Fantasia ’21 Review: ‘Glasshouse’ is palpable with desire but reckons with memory

There has been a pandemic, as there has been a lot lately, and there probably will be for some time to come in the world that Glasshouse takes place in. Unlike the one in the real world, this one strips people of their memory, of the very essence of who they are. This plague, “the shred” as they call it, leaves a mother and her family in a hermetically sealed glass house to live out their days gardening, and also killing “forgetters” who stumble out of the woods into their lawn, until one of of the daughters brings in a wounded stranger.

The world of Glasshouse is an interesting one; despite feeling like a ruined future, everyone dresses (and decorates) like a victorian and all of the contraptions they devise to keep themselves safe outside the house are very steampunk. It becomes clear early on that the effects of the shred can vary from person to person and depend on the level of exposure, which makes everyone involved an unreliable narrator –either because they don’t remember or because they do and they are using that to their own advantage.

Glasshouse

The dynamics in the house are strange and surreal, with Mother keeping the family in line through discipline and repetition. Her daughters, Evie (Anja Taljaard) and Bee (Jessica Alexander), take care of much of the work around the house, including gardening and cleaning and murdering the occasional person who wanders by, and then striping them of any and all usable materials –and I do mean all– while the younger sister Daisy (Kitty Harris) looks on gleefully. However, once Bee brings the stranger inside, a man she believes might be her long lost love, the dynamics of the house are thrown off completely.

Hilton Pelser with Anja Taljaard and Jessica Alexander in Glasshouse

If you think this sounds like The Beguiled, a story of a man disrupting the routines of –and awakening the desires of– a group of isolated women, then you’d be right. If you think it also sounds like Memento, a story about the very nature of memory, both why and how we remember things, then you’d also be right.

Where the film struggles is with the performances. While the women of the story are all good–particularly, Taljaard and Alexander– Pelsers performance is a bit wooden, which doesn’t lend itself well to a character that is supposed to be a manipulator.

Anja Taljaard in Glasshouse

Where the film succeeds is with tone and atmosphere. The film is unceasing in its –and I use this word deliberately– horniness. Every frame drips with lust and desire, and the weird retro-future-historical aesthetic is never not visually interesting (despite some obvious budget constraints).

I won’t lie, the film isn’t entirely successful, but the good stuff outweighs the bad. The result of the examination of memory is satisfying if a little predictable, but if the idea of a love child between The Beguiled and Memento sounds interesting to you, then there will definitely be something for you in Glasshouse.

Glasshouse has its world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival this week.


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