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GLASS HOUSE, THE (director: Daniel Sackheim; screenwriter: Wesley Strick; cinematographer: Alar Kivilo; editor: Howard E. Smith; cast: Leelee Sobieski (Ruby Baker), Diane Lane (Erin Glass), Stellan Skarsgard (Terry Glass), Bruce Dern (Begleiter), Kathy Baker (Nancy Ryan), Trevor Morgan (Rhett Baker), Chris Noth (Uncle Jack), Rita Wilson (Grace Baker), Michael O’Keefe (Dave Baker); Runtime: 105; Columbia Pictures; 2001)
“It was just another mindless slasher film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A superficial scare film that makes a feeble attempt to serve up Hamlet as its theme, but that’s a stretch. It’s about a 16-year-old girl, Ruby Baker (Leelee Sobieski), and her much younger brother Rhett (Trevor Morgan), who become orphaned when their Encino, California, parents (Michael O’Keefe and Rita Wilson) are killed in an auto accident.

They are vulnerable in this orphaned state and a deceitful Malibu couple takes advantage of them, as Terry and Erin (Stellan Skarsgard and Diane Lane), supposedly close friends of their parents, become their guardians. Somehow there are no family members to take them in and it’s also most peculiar that the kids don’t know the Glasses since they were friends of their folks; but, nevertheless, they are turned over to this seemingly wealthy couple living in an ultra-modern glass house overlooking a cliff. Their estate lawyer, Begleiter (Bruce Dern), who is their adviser, says that’s what their folks wanted and they would be wards of the state otherwise. He spends about two seconds with Ruby and drops that news on her like a bombshell, and then hands her his business card; he then offers her nothing else for comfort but to tell her that her parents were thrifty and left the kids enough money so that they would never have to worry about money. It didn’t seem believable. He was certainly no bundle of warmth in their hour of need!

It’s a film that is devoid of subtlety, as its shocks are not surprising and its unfulfilling revenge ending in terms of ‘An Eye For Eye’ was poorly scripted; it also failed to be convincing or scary. It was just another mindless slasher film.

The Glasses put on a false front of being genuinely nice people when the kids move in, but it soon becomes apparent that they are a creepy couple with ulterior motives. The film spends most of its time showing the couple pretending to be nice but still looking creepy. They do not even give the kids separate rooms in their large house, as they are only able to keep Rhett unconcerned about his situation by buying him off with video games.

The usual bag of clichéd scare tactics are carried out before Ruby learns that her host, the businessman in a car transit service business, is in deep trouble financially because he took out a million dollar loan from some gangster loan sharks that he can’t pay back; and, that his doctor wife is a drug addict. It turns out that the businessman rigged the car the parents died in, and that Ruby and her brother are in deep trouble staying in that house. The film also shows there are no adults she can turn to for help and that all the institutions in place to service such situations, such as the schools and social welfare department, are no guarantee that help is on the way.

The film has a cold and steely look, as feelings on everyone’s part are chilly. Ruby is a hard one to warm up to, as she’s always wired for hostility. Her brother seems to be a slave to video games and has no personality. The house itself is smothered in a cold, aqua blue, as the production designer, Jon Gary Steele, and the director of photography, Alar Kivilo, have made the set like a clone of the antagonistic and cold-hearted Terry Glass.

The film was trapped in its one-note of suspense–Will the kids get away from the evil couple who want to rob them? There was no suspense because if you ever watched any of these formulaic flicks, then you will know how this one ends. The film’s slow pace for such a slight story bordered on criminality.

This is basically a film that put a great effort into getting the sets it wanted right, but failed to get anything more out of this absurd tale. It was never believable, but its conclusion was even more ridiculous than it had a right to be.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”