Fantasia Film Festival presents Glasshouse, on digital from 7th February 2022.
Over the past year, there has been no shortage of pandemic themed films. However, it would be fair to say the quality has varied, from the interesting but flawed Songbird to the dire Final Days and the divisive Tyger Tyger. The problem with many of these pandemic themed dramas, thrillers and horrors is their inability to dig into the psychological effect of pandemics. Instead, many opt for tried and tested clichés that avoid searching for the fundamental human experience of a pandemic in all its complexity.
Does Kelsey Egan’s new movie Glasshouse offer us anything new, creative and different? The answer to this is yes! Here we have a melancholy, quiet and sombre debut feature laced with themes of isolation, survival and hidden desire. Egan’s narrative journey beautifully reflects the human ability to redefine and redraw the notions of family, place, and moral decision making during a disaster. Her majestic and isolated Glasshouse a dystopian Noahs Ark, where history and mythology are subject to change in a fight for survival at any cost.
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In many ways, Kelsey Egan’s film is a homage to 1960s and early 1970s folk horror; however, at the same time, the story feels like a long lost M.R. James novella. Therefore, to label Glasshouse as a pandemic horror would be a disservice to the complexity of Egan’s film. After all, in reality, Glasshouse is as much a ghost story as it is a pandemic themed folk horror. Here we find the present haunted by the past, as memories are skewed in creating new mythologies. In Egan’s world, each character feels trapped between reality, fantasy and the ethereal. The result is a mix of biblical and folk-inspired horror, drama and mystery. Here our characters’ choices, desires, and emotions are trapped in a serene yet horrifying Garden of Eden.
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In the middle of a barren, desolate world, an ark of life sits nestled among the trees; the Glasshouse. There, an ageing mother (Adrienne Pearce) cares for her family, protecting them from the infected invaders who seek to bathe in the serenity of the grounds. Here her older girls, Bea (Jessica Alexander) and Evie (Anja Taljaard), care for the younger Daisy (Kitty Harris) and the cognitively impaired Gabe (Brent Vermeulen). The Glasshouse protects them from a memory wiping virus circulating in the air. The grounds and the garden, an ark of life. But this is an ark that must be protected from those who may seek its security at all costs.
Justus de Jager’s soft-focus cinematography dovetails church like streams of light and colour with darker earthier tones as he builds two opposing worlds. Here Jager’s lens reflects the toxic mix of innocence, violence and survival that haunts the Glasshouse. The grounds outside of the glass kingdom, a graveyard of bodies. There is a palpable sense of unease from the opening scenes as we discover the horror lies within the soil. Here the family at the heart of our shimmering castle rewrite and redefine their place and purpose as the guardians of their ark – their morality and memories buried as deep as the bodies that lie beneath their feet.
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But, it is within its discussions on isolation, memory and shifting reality that Egan’s film truly shines. Although the virus may eat away at the memory, isolation does the same as each day merges into the next. It is here where Egan’s film talks to our shared pandemic experience, one where time seems to both slow and speed up simultaneously—our days, flying past while we question what we have achieved in our isolation. Glasshouse asks us to consider the long-term effects of this insular existence if it became the norm through climate change, pandemic or disaster. How would our view of the world change? And would we develop a reality separate from those around us?
In truth, long term forced isolation only encourages our base animalistic desires and behaviours. Here the safety of the bubbles we create give birth to new laws, rules and social behaviours, and the longer these bubbles exist, the more detached and fragmented our society becomes. Here the true horror of the Glasshouse becomes clear, for this is a Garden of Eden of blood, its beauty a mere mirage for the rotting roots under its surface.
In Egan’s world, each character feels trapped between reality, fantasy and the ethereal. The result is a mix of biblical and folk-inspired horror, drama and mystery. Here our characters’ choices, desires, and emotions are trapped in a serene yet horrifying Garden of Eden.