“Once upon a time, there was a girl. She came upon an enchanted castle made of glass. Only people who remembered their names could enter there.”
Directed by Kelsey Egan, this South African film is set in a dystopian future where something called ‘The Shred’ has ravaged the world. It’s an airborne virus which literally shreds the memories and brain functions of people. One family seem to have thought of everything and live in a glass house surrounded by plant life. From the onset of the film, we learn that trespassers are shot on sight and used for fertiliser for their plants. As barbaric as that may seem, this family have very quaint, respectful traditions that surround these tributes whereby they recognise the life of these people before they become food for their tomatoes… In fact, their whole schtick is very ‘Little House on the prairie’ complete with oxygen mask bonnets. They live very simple lives led by the matriarch of the group where everyone plays an integral part to the upkeep of the house, taking turns to clean, plant and do ‘century duty’ which involves protecting the perimeter and Evie collects items which she hides to help preserve the memories of the past. One day, an attractive male stranger joins the group and the eldest daughter, ‘Bee’ takes him in – which is totally against the rules. This stranger is injured so they sew him up and when he wakes in chains, they explain that he will need to earn his keep. His inclusion into the family starts to dramatically mess with the normal flow of things in the house. Gabe, a teenage boy in the fam, whose mind has been affected by ‘The Shred’ obviously distrusts the stranger. Bee is very taken by him and makes excuses to be around him. Evie does not trust him but there is an obvious chemistry between the two of them. The stranger falsely claims to be the family’s long lost elder brother/son Luka (who apparently had an incestuous relationship with Bee in the past and who they believe will return). Bee believes this immediately but the others are not so sure. The matriarch agrees that he can stay for as long as it takes to provide Bee with a child but that he must leave after that. Learning about this, the stranger murders the mother and points the finger at Gabe (exposing him to further effects of The Shred, which renders him completely comatose and unable to defend himself against the accusations). We learn that the stranger is not affected by the virus. Evie blames herself, that it was her fault in the first place as Gabe went outside as a child when she should have been watching him. They agree to changing the way they do things and the last scenes show them accepting their new path as a group. In the last scene we see Gabe come across proof that none of the family are the original family members, that no one is who they believe themselves to be, before he is shot by the stranger.
It’s really hard to sum up this film well, because there’s a lot going on. First off, I loved this film so much. It was utterly beautiful.
Musically, they stripped down the film to its bare bones which was excellent and I’ll explain why. They included some sounds to create tension but most of the noticeable ‘music’ in the film was from the actors themselves through these folk songs about their history. They had them singing beautiful acapella folk songs with lyrics such as “Hold your breath, the shred hollows all. Minds erode like rust.” Folk songs historically are devices used to pass down stories of strife through generations so this stylistic choice inclusion was really smart and a concise way of quickly explaining to the viewer what happened without having to be like “and then so and so happened and we did so and so”. Having read a couple negative reviews, it looks like this film was criticised for not explaining more about the world outside of the house, which I would disagree in light of the folk stories and songs. The stories of the past are there if you just listen, but obviously they’re all from the family’s insular perspective. They don’t really know what happened outside of the Glasshouse. Using these folk songs also makes the landscape very quiet, which in itself is tense, and it made me feel like I was there. Similar effect to the ‘A Quiet Place’ film… it feels very sinister and uncomfortable to not have your ears barraged by constant soundtrack and that pulls you right in, making any sound you do hear more poignant.
This is funny to say but I enjoyed even the name of the virus. Like imagine if there was an airborne virus with the potential to take out even the most intelligent scientists on the planet who might typically give it a convoluted, medical name like ABC298309, and all is left is this literal name. It shreds your memories so this family call it The Shred… it was a cute touch.
Obviously the concept is not unique.. pandemic and family trying to make it work.. stranger intrusion etc etc. What’s interesting about this particular take is that the longer you watch this, as their stories unfold, you realise how little you know the characters. Usually the longer you watch a film, the more you understand right? However, in Glasshouse, the more you watch the more you realise these people are actually complete strangers to you. Not only that but they don’t even know that they are not who they say they are. They’ve been told a line through these folk songs and the stories that this mother figure has told them and the stories they etched on their window (like caveman paintings on the inside of a cave) and in a world of uncertainty, they take all of that as complete truth… which we later discover is not the case. Why would they ever question it, you might ask? I mean, in light of the actual truth, even if they had been told they probably wouldn’t remember… This makes this story and its truth kind of timeless because you learn the truth and you’re like ‘wait a minute… wait a goddamn minute… how long has this been going on?’ There’s no way for you to say exactly. It has the potential to be timeless, or in the very least it means the pandemic may have happened centuries and centuries ago. *POW* Mind blown…
One cool and annoying thing is that these characters, through their mottos and mantras tell you the reveal throughout the film, but you don’t see it until the end, for example “everyone has their place”… or “in a world of madness, we have found order”. It’s that choice of words which doesn’t seem important until you get to the end, and you realise that these choices of words are vital. ‘Found’? Not created order, but found…
And the last thing is that with the exception of the matriarch and Evie, it seems – and again you don’t discover this until the end – that everyone has actually succumbed to ‘The Shred’. The fact that these stories are able to be rewritten so many times by this ‘family’ kind of proves that. It also broadens the meaning of ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ you initially come to understand and definitely makes it a hell of a lot less creepy.. and it also explains why there is never a patriarch mentioned. Because we are told they are a family I wondered about this, but it turns out there IS no patriarch because they’re not actually family(!) At least, that’s my theory.
I could honestly think about this film for days so I will just leave it there and close off by saying that this film is incredible. Beautifully shot. Really well acted. Creepy and twisted in many ways. Concept and the script are excellent. I’m gonna be thinking about this film for some time. A+, would watch again.