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Glasshouse Explores Innocence and Memory Against a Post-Pandemic Backdrop

Glasshouse

We’re probably in for a lot of pandemic movies in the near future, and especially ones built around the claustrophobia and tension of being trapped inside while some disease ravages the world around us. For a lot of people this isn’t something to look forward to, and this reviewer for one can’t blame anyone for wanting to escape the last few years rather than have it endlessly referenced in media. But, seemingly ahead of the curve, Kelsey Egan’s Glasshouse uses a pandemic apocalypse backdrop to ask if ignorance really is bliss, and if forgetting past traumas is really what we need to do to move on.

While the film uses a single insert shot to link its pandemic to Covid, the “Shred” that has ravaged the world really doesn’t bear much resemblance to the Coronavirus pandemic. Completely airborne, the virus affects the memories of anyone who breathes the air, leading to memory loss and eventually full mental shutdown as the minds of the afflicted fade away. As if that weren’t enough, we’re told that almost all animal life has died off, and plant life isn’t far behind. Against this backdrop lives a small family inhabiting a sealed-off greenhouse in an isolated patch of green. 

Glasshouse
Images provided by Fantasia International Film Festival

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the family has regressed to an Edwardian lifestyle, and the juxtaposition of an innocent, earlier time with the harsh realities of life in a post-apocalypse is part of the core of the film’s aesthetics and themes. The family’s three girls wear bonnets outfitted with face shields and air systems, and bandoliers are regularly draped over white cotton shirts. It’s definitely an aesthetic, The Secret Garden meets A Quiet Place, but the juxtaposition goes deeper. At its core, Glasshouse is about the thin veneer of innocence that lays over a mass of darkness, and it’s not subtle about that idea. “We get to play with the fresh ones!” exclaims doe-eyed youngest girl Daisy, before having a tea party with a rotting corpse. Meanwhile, a garden is fertilized using the bodies of unwary trespassers, and eldest daughter Evie is told to calm their brother Gabe, whose mind has been eroded by the Shred, by “song or stroke”. We learn later exactly what that second option is, and it’s pretty uncomfortable.

The literal and figurative exhumation of dark secrets and old hurts accelerates when a nameless stranger arrives, catching the eye of the middle girl, Bee. As this newcomer undermines the stability of the family’s life, we learn more about the lengths they’ve gone to survive and the tragedies that have befallen them. That gossamer-thin layer just barely holding back all the ugliness underneath begins to peel back, and the results are messy, to say the least.

Glasshouse
Images provided by Fantasia International Film Festival

The Glasshouse’s best feature is its commitment to showing rather than telling. Expository dialogue is kept to a minimum, with contextual clues and character beats helping situate the viewer whenever possible. The film eases you into its world, and maintains a languid, relaxed tone and atmosphere, and belies the simmering tensions just underneath the surface. It can at times be a bit too relaxed, though, and even at 90 minutes, there are times when the film feels like it needs to pick up the pace just a bit. And in a lot of ways, it’s really in the film’s final act that things really get interesting. The fact that “the Shred” plays on memories is not incidental, becoming hugely relevant to the action later on as dark secrets are revealed and even the identities of the players begin to become fluid. The true nature of the film and the ideas at play only truly come to the fore towards the end, and getting to that may be difficult for some.

The slow pace and not always seamless melding of themes and ideas won’t be everyone’s cup of post-apocalyptic tea, but if nothing else, Glasshouse has some unique visuals and ideas among its peers in the post-apocalypse genre. Like other films we’ve looked at this year, it also shows how the pressures and constraints of shooting under lockdown don’t need to hold back the productions of films and other creative works, so long as they’re being made with passion.

The 25th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival will run from August 5 – 25, 2021. Check out our full coverage here.

Written By

Beginning as a co-host on a Concordia TV film show before moving on to chief film nerd at Forgetthebox.net, Thomas is now bringing his knowledge of pop-culture nerdery to Sordid Cinema. Thomas is a Montrealer born and raised, and an avid consumer of all things pop-cultural and nerdy. While his first love is film, he has also been known to dabble in comics, videogames, television, anime and more. You can support his various works on his Patreon, at https://www.patreon.com/TomWatchesMovies You can also like the Tom Watches Movies Facebook page to see all his work on Goombastomp and elsewhere.

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