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THE GLASS HOUSE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Leelee Sobieski, Diane Lane, Stellan Skarsgard, Bruce Dern, Trevor Morgan
Director:  Daniel Sackheim
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Pan & Scan 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  107 Minutes
Release Date:  January 2, 2002

“We have to do what’s best for the children.”

Film **

Consider that The Glass House is both A) a big house of almost all windows, and B) a house owned by a family named Glass, and you get the feeling that you’re watching something that’s not as clever as it thinks it is.  This is a misguided movie; one that mistakes a squirm factor and sudden starts for genuine scares, and one that mistakes dramatic implausibility for cleverness.

It opens with a shot of a cheesy horror movie played out on a screen, where Ruby Baker (Sobieski) and friends are enjoying themselves.  What happens in the movies isn’t real horror, the picture suggests, but rather, what happens next.  When Ruby arrives home, she discovers cops waiting to tell her that her parents have been killed in an auto accident.

According to the family lawyer (Dern), the parents’ wish was for Ruby and her little brother Rhett (Morgan) to live in the custody of one time neighbors and good friends the Glasses.  Erin (Lane) is a doctor and Terry (Skarsgard) is a businessman…both seem successful, and their big beautiful house seems like a wonderful new place to live.  Until, that is, both brother and sister are placed in the same bedroom, despite the size of the house and number of rooms!

That’s only the start of how the film tries to make you squirm.  Soon after, we catch Terry leering at Ruby as she goes for a midnight swim.  That scene is echoed throughout by the constant imagery of reflected water on walls and ceilings as we travel through the Glass house.

The trailer for this movie gave far too much away…a mistake I’ll try not to duplicate here, but I think you’ll agree with me when you see it that the conclusion has been made clear very early on.  There are no surprises and no real suspense…we merely wait for the inevitable until the picture finally gives it to us.

One aspect the film has going for it is a tremendous climactic scene; the one moment where I responded to the movie with a real emotional reaction.  I only hoped its potency would not be offset by a silly attempt at a topper, as many films like this are guilty of.  I was not granted my wish.

Much of the film’s progression hinges on points that are difficult to buy into.  Ruby, for example, has a knack for always being at the right place at the right time (or wrong time, depending on your point of view) to learn the necessary bits of exposition she (and we) need to propel the story.  For seemingly intelligent people, the Glasses are amazingly inept and careless in guarding secrets that shouldn’t have been so hard to keep.  But the most implausible moment for me is that Ruby apparently didn’t notice one major detail about her parents’ accident until it was just the right moment in the film for her to do so…the kind of detail that anybody would have noticed immediately.

Points like these keep The Glass House from ever finding its rail.  It meanders drunkenly towards its foregone ending without ever giving us the satisfaction of a real surprise or a believable twist to hold on to in the interim.  Though the cast of actors is talented, none of the principals really get to live up to their reputations.  Stellan Skarsgard has been a favorite of mine for a few years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him more ill at ease in a role as I’ve seen him here.  Likewise, Diane Lane has a good moment or two, but is by and large wasted.  Leelee Sobieski brings a certain amount of earnestness and pluck to Ruby, but since Ruby exists more like a plot device than a character, her performance is forced to stay below radar for the most part.

In the end, The Glass House is as fragile as its title suggests, and it didn’t take much of a stone to shatter it down to its foundation.

Video ***

This is a good effort, but not amongst Columbia Tri Star’s best.  Given the scope ratio of the film, I personally would have preferred using dual layer technology to give more space to the anamorphic widescreen transfer and nix the pan & scan version on side 2.  Though the colors are good and the picture doesn’t suffer from any undue grain, there is a constant, slight softness to the image that’s noticeable…sometimes more so than others.  Lines and details aren’t always as strong as I would like, even in brighter scenes.  Darker scenes seem to play a little better, because you expect some detail loss in them.  One shot in particular of a sunrise suffers from a rather harsh bit of shimmering that you can’t ignore.  It’s very brief, though, and the only one of it’s kind.  Overall, it still marks a decent looking presentation, but a bit sub par for the studio.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack serves much better.  Two sequences in particular give you your money’s worth…one, where Ruby and Rhett try to escape in a thunderstorm, and a car chase near the end.  These open up all stages of audio with plenty of dynamic range and bass, utilizing all channels for maximum effect and potency.  During other stretches, dialogue is always clearly rendered, and the musical cues from composer Christopher Young offer nice dramatic touches as well.  High marks.

Features **1/2

The disc starts off with a commentary track by director Daniel Sackheim and writer Wesley Strick, which is about an average listen.  Both men speak fluently, but what they speak of isn’t particularly interesting.  There is also a single deleted scene (a funeral sequence) with optional commentary by the same two fellows, plus a trailer for this movie and I Know What You Did Last Summer, some filmographies, and very brief interview snippets with the producer, Sobieski, Lane and Skarsgard that aren’t immediately apparent, but are located in the filmographies menu.

Summary:

The Glass House is a thriller that doesn’t thrill because it doesn’t do a very good job at hiding its tricks.  Despite a talented cast and a good sense of cinematic styling, it’s simply the kind of movie where we wait for the conclusion rather than anticipate it.