The Glass House (2001)

The Glass House is a film that failed on a conceptual basis. When it was being written, surely someone had to see it for the clichéd mess that it is. Right? Even the most competent filmmaking in the world — and director Daniel Sackheim tries his best with this project — would barely make a passable film here. The screenplay is horrible, filled with absolutely nothing that you haven’t seen before in similar films.

Ideally, you wouldn’t even know it’s a thriller until the midway point, when things start to get weird. However, all of the supporting characters act some completely insane or creepy, the music picks up and makes you anticipate jump scenes, and the rain and fog are so thick — despite the film taking place in Malibu — and the shadows so long, that you know it’s a thriller right off the bat. The trailer doesn’t help, either, although I’d recommend not seeing that until after you watch The Glass House — if you do, in fact, choose to see it. I can’t recommend that, though, as you’ve seen better versions of this film before.

The plot begins on a dark night, when Ruby (Leelee Sobieski) returns home after sneaking out for the night. Police cars are in front of her house, and she thinks she’s in big trouble. Turns out, her parents, who were out that night, died in a car accident. Ruby and her brother (Trevor Morgan) are willed off to their former neighbors, Erin (Diane Lane) and Terry (Stellan Skarsgård). They’re creepy off the bat. Erin is controlling and Terry seems to be leering all over Ruby.

It gets even weirder and creepier as the film progresses, but you’ll figure out exactly every twist — of which there is one — and all of the reveals way in advance. Is being multiple steps ahead of the plot at every turn really that much fun? I don’t think so. When you know how the film will end before the half-way marker, something has gone wrong. In this case, it’s that the screenplay took the easy way out in every plot point, to the point where this film could be the example of what not to do with this genre.

This is, however, a well-shot film, taking place in a gorgeous house. The “Glass House” of the title is where Ruby and her brother wind up living, and it’s a fabulous place to shoot a movie. It doesn’t wind up being put to good use, but at least if the plot starts to bore you, and the direction fails to thrill you, at least Alar Kivilo’s cinematography will keep your eyes glued on something.

The performances are all over the place here, which works out so weird. Leelee Sobieski plays the role straight, and is the only one who does so. Everyone else hams it up, and I’m not even sure why. Stellan Skarsgård is the one who does this the most, and acts as our main villain. Why? Well, you’ll probably figure it out early on, but let’s just say that as soon as the kids’ lawyer tells Ruby that they’ve amassed a wealth of $4 million, you can pretty much see how this is going to go. Even the odd leering doesn’t work at all, because despite the initial “okay, he’s creepy and might be obsessed with this young woman” thing, it never adds up to anything.

There are a couple of decent chills and thrills, but they’re so few and far between — and they’re telegraphed so heavily that you’ll know exactly when they’re coming — that they’re hardly worth it. I mean, when you know exactly how things are going to happen, it’s not fun. There are no actual surprises, and the points that do work only do so because they’re so tried and true that it takes a truly incompetent director to mess them up.

The Glass House is such a terrible example of how to make a thriller. It’s so predictable, so clichéd, and just so easy. There’s just not a lot of originality here, and in a thriller that wants to keep you guessing, it fails when you’re multiple steps ahead of it at every turn. There’s really only one twist, and if you don’t see it from the second time a specific character arrives, you’re not paying close enough attention. Sobieski plays the role straight but everyone else is over-the-top, leading to it feeling like our lead is in a different movie from everyone else. It has a couple of thrills, but it wasn’t going to work as soon as it was put on paper.

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