The late Victorian glass structure of the Pearson Conservatory (built in 1882) stamps the landscape of the South African Eastern Cape with a reminder of British colonialism—and it makes one magnificent main set location for writer-director Kelsey Egan’s Glasshouse.
In fact, it’s the film’s only location. A pandemic film in both production timeline and thematic material, Glasshouse is set in an unmarked future where an airborne disease colloquially referred to as the Shred erodes memories and causes dementia. The Pearson Conservatory is “The Sanctuary” for a family of five. The mother (Adrienne Pearce), with a haircut seemingly exported from an M. Night Shyamalan movie, imposes religious rituals upon her four children to keep their memories alive and functional. The most important of all rituals? Everything in the sanctuary is sacred and nobody from the outside may enter. This is set off-balanced when the eldest daughter, Bee (Jessica Alexander), lets in the Stranger (Hilton Pelser). Now that he is inside the sanctuary, is he not sacred?
The Victorian-era costume and production design, in addition to the plot, obviously force allusions to Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. But others have commented about that to great lengths, including the official Fantastic Fest synopsis. Unlike the French-Turkish director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang, which intentionally and curiously toyed with Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides by importing the story to a different cultural setting to make sharp political commentary, Egan’s attempt feels more ode-ish. Even the way she lights and colors scenes—overwashing the screen with angelic whites—is reminiscent of Coppola’s work. The problem is there seems to be no larger purpose to this inspirational feeling other than to communicate a deep love for the work that inspired her. Why does the family wear Victorian clothes despite being set in the future, as opposed to Coppola’s antebellum past? Perhaps it’s my own lack of imagination (I also didn’t like the similarly designed Cowboys & Aliens), but the sci-fi elements of The Shred just didn’t work with the period-piece aesthetics.
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