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Overall Rating
2.59

Awesome: 3.28%
Worth A Look: 18.03%
Just Average: 29.51%
Pretty Crappy32.79%
Sucks: 16.39%

5 reviews, 31 user ratings


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Glass House, The (2001)
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by Jack Sommersby

"Disappointingly Shatters After a Bravura Beginning"
2 stars

The first-half is stupendous; the second-half gives ludicrous a good name.

The Glass House boasts such a spectacular first-half that it's a real shame the follow-through is so decidedly lacking, so chock-full of mind-numbing contrivance and illogic, so blatantly insulting to any simpleton's intelligence that it ultimately undermines and cancels out all the stellar moments preceding it. What starts out as a first-rate psychological thriller eventually dwindles down to the deplorable aesthetic level of a grade-Z slasher flick. For a while, we're held spellbound by the eerie goings-on, where the threat of imminent danger is tactfully and skillfully implied, bereft of the kind of heavy-handed, sledgehammer storytelling approach employed by the majority of uncouth filmmakers of this day and age. But to appease the mindless masses, apparently, the intriguing story points are resolved in the most perfunctory manner, where logic and reason are tossed aside, and predictable modes of violence are used to tie everything up neatly in the end. Rarely have I seen a film of such promise take such a quick downward spiral into the furthest depths of banality.

Even though The Glass House is clearly a failure, and I don't really recommend or expect a hell of a lot of people to go see it, the detailing of the plot will be limited in this particular review, simply because the set-up is so much better than the execution, so some of the starting-off points, which initially pull us in and grip, need not be spoiled for the uninitiated. Basically, the story involves sixteen-year-old Ruby Baker (Leelee Sobieski) and her younger brother Rhett (Trevor Morgan) adjusting to their new legal guardians, Terry and Erin Glass (Stellan Skarsgard and Diane Lane), after their parents are killed in an auto accident. They're plucked from their cozy middle-class neighborhood into an elaborately built seaside house with lavish glass exteriors; they start going to different schools; they're forced to abandon old friends and find new ones; and while Rhett is having an affable enough time with the Glasses, Ruby suspects something threatening on their part yet can't really come up with anything concrete to support it.

The Glasses seem harmless enough at first but come off as a bit too overdeliberate in their each and every action around the kids, as if monitoring their own performances from a distanced position, playing put-upon parts for ulterior motives that are as unclear to us as they are to Ruby. Then again, the Glasses are on unfamiliar parental territory, so at first we chalk their questionable demeanor up to inexperience and awkwardness. Expensive video games are lavished upon Brett, as well as a lavish new wardrobe for Ruby, and whenever the Glasses whip up any number of fancy dishes that are deemed to exotic by the kids, calls to Domino's Pizza are happily made. But due to her instincts and occasional eavesdropping, Ruby begins to realize the Glasses, like their house, possess a dark interior behind their tantalizing exterior. The rest of the film details her attempts to convince those who will listen that she and Rhett are in danger, which becomes quite the chore being that her antagonists are very, very good about covering their slimy tracks.

The director who pulled duty here is Daniel Sackheim, whose feature-film debut this is after countless years of television fare, which, truth be told, almost always gets chalked up as a debit in my book. So I was truly unprepared for the luxurious style and narrative assurance demonstrated here. Visually sophisticated, Sackheim's eye for inspired widescreen composition is impressive, especially being that most of the action takes place inside the title house, a location where most directors would employ a traditional non-widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio to safely shoot in. But the 2.35:1 Panavision lens doesn't seem to have burdened Sackheim at all: there's a lucid yet hard-edged tactility to the images that never comes off as mechanical or overly studied. The film is wondrous to take in not just because the images are beautiful but because they're suggestive in getting across a predominating mysterious atmosphere that clings. Like Ruby, we're fascinated yet unnerved in trying to distill a clear and present danger within these uncertain, misleading walls. Also, with the aid of the crackerjack editor Howard E. Smith (who's regularly worked with such stalwart directors by the likes of James Foley and Kathryn Bigelow), Sackheim is able to generate a good deal of story propulsion -- whenever we're close to catching up to the plot, the seductive editing rhythms kick up a notch and temporarily dispel us from a linear plane of comprehension.

Along with the top-flight camerabatics, Sackheim shows a real love for actors and, more importantly, a valid film sense. The characters he puts up here on the screen are as identifiable as they are watchable, and their actions (at first, anyway) exude a naturalness that can only come from not having been rehearsed to death. While it would have helped if Ruby, in addition to being our protagonist, had been the sole person we saw the film's events through -- tightening one's sense of apprehension is always made better in a one-person's-view film -- the narrative drive is strong enough to consistently hold us, even when we just can't help but feel the story foundation is a bit rickety because of this. Sackheim knows where to place the camera, when to pan, when to zoom in, and what to photograph for maximum suspense with an admirable restraint that suggests a man who's clearly interested in the better good of the film as a whole rather than as a compilation of bits -- you know, the kind where every scene climaxes out just to engage the thirty-second attention spans of prime-time tv junkies? It's the information that isn't immediately relayed to us here that keeps us turning our mental wheels, which allows the unseen, behind-the-doors actions of the villains to grow and fester in our own minds, allowing the disturbing nature of it all to give off a much more horrifying impression than if Sackheim had just spelled everything out.

But that rickety story foundation Sackheim's direction has glided us over soon collapses, because the screenplay does a complete one-eighty on us. Important information that would have been best revealed much later on is revealed way too soon; our mental alarms instantly go off; and, within a couple of nanoseconds, the motives of the villains are made clear, which are disappointingly trite, and which are played out even triter. The first-half makes for great fun because your preconceptions are constantly being knocked down; the second half, though, is like a slap in the face because you, not just the heroine, have been played for a fool. Whopping coincidences abound. Implausible feats of physical dexterity and stamina are pushed to the outer limits. Logic loopholes and behavioral inconsistencies make you want to retch. All are on full display, front and center, because the screenwriter Wesley Strick (who penned the dandy James Woods legal thriller True Believer and the dreadful Scorsese-directed Cape Fear remake) obviously had no intention of following through on the promising story. Rather, he just concocted this cinematic hodgepodge to function as a smoking-hot ticket for mass box office consumption, aimed at the IQ-depleted who still get a kick out of the seemingly dead baddie coming back to life for two to four climactic go-rounds. And there's an anti-climactic stabbing of a pivotal character that I thought vile and disgusting; it serves no purpose whatsoever except to provide the film with an obligatory red herring. (The Glass House may hold a record for racking up the most cliches in such a limited section of running time.)

Considering the circumstances, I must admit that (most of) the cast keeps their bearings and manage to cut fairly convincing portraits. Leelee Sobieski is vivid and appealing as Ruby, with only a few hints of self-adoration. From what I could tell, never once did she go into the tired wide-eyed routine -- instead of showboating, Sobieski effortlessly inhabits (even if she doesn't come off as particular memorable or noteworthy). No doubt with Sackheim's help, Trevor Morgan gives a sturdy, staying-in-character portrait. Michael O'Keefe and Rita Wilson succeed in etching sharp portraits as the parents before being dispatched, while the always-welcome Kathy Baker is wasted but impressive in the thankless part of a concerned social worker. Diane Lane (the most beautiful and talented actress ever to have graced the silver screen) has been saddled with an ill-defined role, but, through the unbeatable combination of imagination and technique, manages to bring much-needed shading to the ambiguous Erin. But the best performance of the film is the small, quiet one given by Bruce Dern as a family lawyer who may or may not be worthy of Ruby's trust. After years of playing two-bit hoods and internally turbulent psychos, the ever-eccentric Dern is surprisingly subtle and graceful in this cast-against-type turn. (The only bum performance comes from the overemployed Stellan Skarsgard, who hits nothing but predictable notes as the villainous Terry.)

If The Glass House were simply bad from start to finish, than it wouldn't be so disappointing and infuriating. But the film manages to work itself so skillfully into our good graces with such a minimal story premise that it really does seem that it's going to happily prove our initial suspicions wrong, that it's the kind of nerve-jangling thriller audiences have been deprived of on a consistent basis. But instead of developing and resolving the conflicts with ingenuity, the filmmakers saw fit to scrape the bottom of the creative barrel and dish out a heaping helping of contrivances that, all too sadly, appears to still be a satisfying staple for American filmgoers. No matter. Though The Glass House isn't likely to be an acme of his career, Daniel Sackheim emerges from this shambles of cinematic shards as a director with talent.

Turn it off after about 45 minutes, and at least you'll have a fond memory of it.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2006&reviewer=327
originally posted: 03/01/03 18:04:15
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell IT SUCKS 1 stars
2/19/11 Ark Leelee is hot, movie somehow captures a sense of dread! 3 stars
10/05/10 PAUL SHORTT PREDICTABLE, MELODRAMATIC THRILLER 2 stars
7/19/08 Shaun Wallner This is the kind of movie you fall asleep too. 1 stars
2/13/07 Sleez Boy Probably the worst crap I've seen, doesn't accomplish anything, but HATE for this films! >{ 1 stars
12/02/06 David Pollastrini Leelee Sobieski is hot! 5 stars
7/28/05 Nobody Dark, creepy, paranoid. I was expecting a better ending, but it is pretty suspenseful 3 stars
6/17/05 Indrid Cold Leelee looks like ayoung Helen Hunt, which is the most interesting thing about this movie. 2 stars
6/04/05 Joe This movie makes you wanna hate your mother 1 stars
3/10/05 Danielle R. A thoroughly entertaining thriller. Excellent art direction. 5 stars
11/14/04 Robert It sucks! 1 stars
2/05/04 NewYork I enjoyed it very much 4 stars
1/31/04 Lindsay IT'S GREAT 4 stars
9/30/03 Samuel Justus Suspenseful! Damn! It would suck if this ever happened to someone! 4 stars
9/04/03 Natalie Stonecipher Heroine's a brat; Skarsgård too nice to hate for too much of movie. Average 3 stars
9/04/03 Jin So outrageous, depressing, and just wretched 1 stars
8/25/03 Carrie Kohl Anything like subliminable, OthersFan? What dat you say, Darlene?!? 4 stars
6/25/03 TheOthersFan this does fall under the genre of unintentionable-sick-sense-of-humor comedies, right? 1 stars
1/05/03 Goofy Maxwell Like watching retarded fish trying to keep their heads above water. 1 stars
10/10/02 SiliconHero HAHAHAHAHAHA...wait...you said this was a thriller? Coulda fooled me! 2 stars
8/13/02 palaboy101 good movie... 'nuff said. 4 stars
5/15/02 Darlene Groetz The movie where Leelee Sobieski became a zombie of the tragic wands. 2 stars
2/22/02 Unanon Oooooh! Spooky! <----- Note sarcasm. 2 stars
2/16/02 John Lyons Would have been watchable if Lelee had gotten naked. 2 stars
2/03/02 Natalie Stonecipher Heroine's a brat; Skarsg@rd too nice to hate for too much of movie 3 stars
1/12/02 Andrew Carden Predictible, but Still Watchaable Teen Thriller. 3 stars
1/07/02 greensweater Hilarious! 1 stars
11/24/01 Roy Smith Best appreciated with a box of kleenex, and I don't mean for crying. 3 stars
10/14/01 Schmidty72 Was promising but Sobieski's character is just not likable. 2 stars
10/07/01 KCMichelle My grandmother's funeral was less predictable. 1 stars
9/17/01 FriscoJohn Average at BEST 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  14-Sep-2001 (PG-13)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  18-Oct-2001 (M)




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