The new film “The Glass House” is remarkable in only one respect – it manages to shamelessly rip off Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita” and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” all at once.
Ruby Baker (Leelee Sobieski, “Here on Earth”) is a rebellious and strong-willed teenager. We know this because we see her sneak out with her friends after curfew to smoke cigarettes. Her little brother Rhett (Trevor Morgan, “Jurassic Park 3”) is an obnoxious little brat. We know this because Ruby tells us. Rhett and Ruby’s parents have no character development because they are dead within the first five minutes of the movie.
So Rhett and Ruby travel to Malibu Beach to live with their appointed guardians, the Glasses. You see, once R&R move in with Terry (Stellan Skarsgard, “Good Will Hunting”) and Erin (Diane Lane, “Perfect Storm”) Glass, then they live in the Glass house. But it’s not just a pithy double entendre; the house really is constructed almost entirely of glass. (Cue “Rear Window.”) Therefore, all the people living inside of it can watch each other all the time through windows/walls.
While the setup is not original, it does make for good suspense. Director Daniel Sackheim would have turned out a much sharper little film had he followed the lead of “The Others” and forced his characters to stay locked up inside that environment inescapably. Sackheim hits on a titillating idea, that a glass house is more claustrophobic than a normal one, but he never pushes this theme to fruition. Unfortunately the characters frequently wander out into the real world, and when they do, you can hear the film screech to a crushing halt.
This perpetual voyeurism might be dull if the Glasses were normal people, but they are obviously not. In fact, they are evil in every way, and they have malicious plans for their new stepchildren. (Cue “Hamlet.”)
The great problem with the film is that it doesn’t know what genre it wants to be. The formulaic plot and young heroine seem to suggest cheesy teen thriller. But then there’s this subversive adult subject matter floating around underneath. Dr. Erin Glass is a pain specialist who happens to have a severe dependency on the drugs she prescribes. Lane plays Erin as a tortured shell of a woman trying desperately to be strong but failing always. There is an edgy realism to her character, but we never spend enough time with her to see it develop.
In another strange plot foray, Terry Glass begins to lust after his sixteen-year-old stepdaughter. (Cue “Lolita.”) Skarsgard is way too good an actor for this film, however, and he actually pulls off the sexual predator twist with disgusting, disarming results.
Sobieski, who already looks like a deer in headlights when she’s not acting, appears ready to slither out of her skin to get away from him. By the time all this unfolds, “The Glass House” has reached a quiet stillness; for a second there’s a glimpse of a tight, provocative film. But then just as you’re truly enraptured, the plot returns to formula and ends woefully with a limp, clichéd finale.
Sackheim has never directed a film before, but he’s helmed episodes of many successful television shows (“E.R.,” “The X-Files,” “Harsh Realm”). Perhaps his prior experience has only prepared him to grip an audience for one hour. This is all a shame because with a finer script, purposeful direction and a little courage to be provocative, the film would have been infinitely better.
“The Glass House” has moments of ingenuity, but overall it is a disappointing rehash of familiar themes. Somebody please throw a stone.