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An understated but gripping tale of survival in the face of an epidemic that steals memories, “Glasshouse” is well worth your time and money.


Glasshouse arrived on digital in July 2022. Read on to find out if you should Rent it, Stream it, or Skip it.

Horror debuts can be a tricky business. Hew too closely to the established formula, and your work can be considered derivative at best, a straight-up copy at worst. But veer too far from inherent expectations, and you risk alienating the audience or not finding a market for your product.

So, when a new director comes along that manages to perfectly thread the needle between homage and innovation, horror fans should definitely take notice.

And, speaking of notice…Glasshouse has been nominated for accolades from Film Threat and The South African Film and Television Awards, which means that director Kelsey Egan (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is certainly getting the recognition she deserves.

Glasshouse, a South African production filmed in Port Elizabeth, was released on the indie circuit in September 2021. The other credited writer is Emma Lungiswa De Wet, whose primary output prior to this production was children’s animated films (and who I feel has really found her niche here).

The runtime clocks in at a respectable one hour and thirty-seven minutes.

Though it doesn’t have an MPAA rating at this time, it features language, mild amounts of gore, and moments of sexuality (but no nudity).

The official synopsis is as follows:

Confined to their glasshouse, a family survives The Shred, a toxin that erases memory. Until the sisters are seduced by a Stranger who shatters their peace and stirs a past best left buried.

On a surface level, Glasshouse is exactly that — but there is so much more going on under the hood.

Eschewing straightforward jumpscares and creature shenanigans, this is a movie that prefers to linger on the quiet moments, forcing the viewer to ask some of their own questions.

Outside of a few grisly images that the camera rarely lingers on, Kelsey Egan is more concerned with the human element during trying times; our fears, our desires, and our hidden motivations.

As such, Glasshouse cannot be called a horror movie in the traditional sense. In fact, foreign location notwithstanding, I would say it has more in common with a Southern Gothic than anything else. It is very nearly soap opera-ish at times; emotional undercurrents, long glances full of yearning, the past coming back to haunt at convenient times.

In fact, this film has been likened to The Beguiled (the 2017 Sofia Coppola version as opposed to the 1971 Clint Eastwood offering), and I find this to be a valid comparison.

Both lean heavily on longing, repressed emotions bubbling to the surface, and a sultry atmosphere, with the horrific events that inform the tales playing out on the periphery. This means that gorehounds and slasher fanatics won’t find much meat to chew on here. But for those who like a more cerebral experience, Glasshouse may just scratch that itch.

In fact, there is something uniformly captivating about watching a precariously balanced situation getting thrown into chaos with the introduction of something (or someone) new.

Like a flaming trainwreck or a nasty accident on the freeway, it’s hard to look away from the carnage taking place on the screen.

Just because said carnage in Glasshouse is more emotional than physical does nothing to minimize the impact.

Performances are uniformly excellent throughout.

Jessica Alexander, recently cast in Disney’s live-action Little Mermaid, plays older sister Bee with an air of dreamy whimsy, perpetually lost in memory and fantasy. Middle sister Evie is played by Anja Taljaard, bringing just the right mix of stoicism and quiet desire to the role. Younger sister Daisy, played by newcomer Kitty Harris, is a delight, part wide-eyed innocence and part unfazed survivor, comfortable with the horrors of everyday life while curious about what came before.

But it’s the older cast that anchors the show, easily selling the drama while stealing nearly every scene they appear in.

Hilton Pelser as The Stranger brings a perfect balance of gentility and deviousness to what could have been a throwaway role. Is he an innocent wanderer? A snake in the grass? He straddles the line quite effortlessly. And Adrienne Pearce, as the mother, absolutely owns the role. She’s the ultimate matriarch — wise and patient, practical and calculating, firmly in control of the haven she has built for her family.

Costuming is absolutely on point.

The Victorian-era garb, replete with homebrew breathing apparatus attached to bonnets, gives the film a unique visual style in the growing post-apocalyptic market. Instead of drab colors and hand-me-down attire, Glasshouse is populated with spotless white shifts, tunics, and bygone-era underthings.

It’s a welcome departure from the genre staples.

In keeping with that theme, Glasshouse is a brightly lit experience, taking place exclusively at the real-world Pearson Conservatory, a Victorian-era glass mansion that is almost a character unto itself. Primarily shot during the day, the abundant greenery and glue-covered windows lend the proceedings a dreamlike quality.

Aside from a single moment in the first few minutes of the movie, where one of the characters is reading a fading magazine mentioning the COVID pandemic, Glasshouse feels like a timeless affair.

Technology is nearly nonexistent; outside of a rifle, the aforementioned gas masks, and some battery-powered flashlights, this movie could take place one hundred years in either direction.

But where the movie really shines is in its examination of the value of recollection. In a world where The Shred can erase memories (the longer you’re out in it without a mask, the more it takes), the characters grapple with the importance of remembering versus forgetting. Evie contends that without memories, there is no point to existence, while Bee argues that hanging onto painful experiences only causes unnecessary grief.

It’s a theme that has been played with before in cinema.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind stands out as the most obvious, but even films like Memento offer ruminations on the concept of memory. Glasshouse makes compelling arguments for both sides of the fence while allowing viewers to make up their own minds.

And yes, a few of the metaphors are less than subtle; that memory can be just as much a prison as a physical structure is front-and-center in the narrative. But that’s ok. With a slow-burn film like this, it’s nice to have something overt thrown in now and again.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it; GLASSHOUSE won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a film that focuses on the rot and decay underneath the veneer instead of some ultimate “big bad” amassing a body count.

There are glimpses of sexuality, and the entire film is permeated with erotic overtones, but actual skin is rarely on display. Viscera is relegated more towards scenes of science and education instead of in service of splatter. All of the typical features that make a horror movie a “horror” movie are absent here.

That said, this reviewer was invested from start to finish. Even the somewhat depressing ending felt both appropriate and earned. Kelsey Egan is one to watch, and I’m excited to see what project she tackles next.

RENT IT. This emphatic recommendation comes with a caveat. Hardcore horror fans eager to see plenty of onscreen carnage will almost surely be disappointed. But fans of thought-provoking, slow-burning dramatic thrillers should find plenty to love about this strong and satisfying debut from Kelsey Egan. 

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4.5

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