I am a fan of a post-apocalyptic/dystopian nightmare done well, and I wasn’t sure that’s what Glasshouse promised, but boy did it deliver. Glasshouse is an official selection of the Fantasia Film Festival 2021.
The Premise: Living in a glasshouse in total isolation, a matriarch helps her family survive The Shred, a dementia-like virus that steals memory. They take turns standing guard, growing food, maintaining the home, educating each other, and comforting themselves with ritual. It’s survival and subsistence, but with a certain peace that very few others would have encountered in this new world. The tenuous peace is inevitably shattered by the arrival of a Stranger, the first in a long time that they haven’t immediately dispatched. His presence stirs up an uncomfortable past, and it seems perhaps there are worse fates than forgetting.
The Verdict: Director Kelsey Egan takes her time introducing us to the unique social ecosystem of the glasshouse in which our family lives. A dangerous toxin in the air means there are no live animals and edible plants need to be treated with the same care and attention as human lungs. It’s a precarious way to live yet we are given to understand that they are the lucky ones, and have stayed that way thanks to vigilance, ritual, and an armed guard. Yet they allow a stranger to enter, and to stay. True, two of the sisters are young women, and quickly seduced by the only man who isn’t their brother. But it turns out their relative peace was a carefully balanced construct and the Stranger has shifted the dynamic simply by infiltrating it. It’s always juicy and fascinating to imagine how someone would survive the end of the world, and this particular family makes great a host for the apocalypse. Writers Egan and Emma Lungiswa De Wet make a convincing and absorbing case for their take, creating a world that’s innately creepy and inspires suspicion. Families are of course always a bounty for a story-teller; they are unique partnerships built upon jealousies, secrets, and competition, yet they are bound to each other with ties only they, and sometimes not even they, can understand. A fantastic young cast including Jessica Alexander, Anja Taljaard, and Hilton Pelser make us believe in the frailty of their survival, and warn us that the last one to succumb isn’t exactly the winner. While oblivion is bliss, remembering is a burden.