First thing we see after the initial credits is a typical hack-and-slash horror movie, which pretends for a few moments that it's the movie we're really watching before we cut to the kids in the audience. This is such a symbolic start, and a blatant one at that. For something that is so obviously not horror, this is an awfully interesting setup to live up to.
The story centers on Ruby Baker, who a few short scenes later is orphaned along with her younger brother when their parents die in a car crash on their anniversary. And after the dust settles, the two Bakers are living with the Glass family, who were specified as the custodial parents in the deceased's will. They end up sharing a room - "It's temporary" Mr. Glass says - which is slightly uncomfortable, and get used to new schools. The key here is the continual emphesis on being uncomfortable.
The movie drags on for the first half, intimating time and again that something is amiss with the Glass family. Ironically enough, the Glasses seem to live in a near-glass house with all the windows and various other transparent items so thematic strewn about. Somehow I feel I can safely assume the title was not changed during or after production on this one.
Once the plot is out in the open, things pick up marvelously - there's actually a reason to watch - we care about the Bakers and Ruby's quest to secure a safe situation for herself and her brother. There's some imagination to how the end game is played out which might be worth the price of admission (in my case, the $.99 rental).
There's some hint in the trailer about what happened here. Segments of several scenes are shown there which don't appear in the cut of the movie itself. The IMDB mentions its original running time was close to three hours (now down to 106 minutes) - meaning at least a third of the film was cut. This would explain such things as the fact that Ruby's friends from the opening scene appear just twice afterwards in "oh, we need to be keeping in touch" scenes with no resolution whatsoever.
Leelee Sobieski is at moments interesting as Ruby, though I know she can do much better than this - sometimes the material drags you down - but the cast is generally believable. Stellan Skarsgård makes a very lurid Terry Glass, walking an edge of deceit and manipulation with dexterity.
It is a pity that the widescreen side of the rental DVD was scratched up - the little bit I saw had some encouraging use of the frame. I can't say that the film really followed through with it from having to switch over to the pan-and-scan side. As just an aside, it's almost always better to watch in widescreen, and this movie shows an important difference early on. In the new house, Ruby goes out into the hall at night to change because her brother is being an ass. We get a sense that someone is watching, and Ruby stops because she has that sense too. In the widescreen, we can see that she saw a shadow on the wall, but in the pan-and-scan it's just the vague sense of something. I like having both versions available, but I come across it only infrequently.
As for the question of living up to the horror scene at the front of the film? It tries, but ultimately fails by being - how ironic - so transparent about its own intentions. If you cut out all the extraneous hinting, maybe you'd have a good film, but you'd also undercut the horror as a framing device. Some bad movies are good ideas poorly executed, some are bad ideas well executed. I think I'd have to conclude The Glass House was a fairly good to good idea that was executed poorly. The most haunting aspect is that three hour cut - whether it was watchable or better but too long, either way just reinforces the fact that the script needed some attention before they started production.
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