BY TODD WEISER
Daily Arts Writer
Published September 16, 2001
A fine cast has been assembled for Daniel Sackheim"s "The Glass House," and attractive photography makes the film a pleasant experience for the eyes, but this movie forgot one thing, and that is a smart script that actually respects the intelligence of the audience. A thriller is usually enjoyable and successful only if there is a certain level of suspense and fear present. However, "The Glass House" is about as predictable as the alphabet and does not contain one genuine moment of fright.
The film opens with Ruby Baker (Leelee Sobieski) and three of her friends watching a horror film at the local cineplex. During this scene, you should carefully sit back and observe their reactions. This is how the filmmakers want you to respond to this film, but you are more likely to react by yawning and checking your watch every five minutes. If you have seen any previews for this film, then you will know what happens next (along with almost everything else that occurs in the film).
Ruby"s parents die in a car accident coming back from celebrating their wedding anniversary. Ruby, 16, and her 11-year-old brother, Rhett (Trevor Morgan) need new guardians and in their will, the Baker"s chose former neighbors Terry (Stellan Skarsgard) and Erin Glass (Diane Lane) to look after their children. Losing her parents and making the move from the Valley to Malibu is very tough on Ruby. Even seeing her new house does not elicit joyful emotions in her.
The new living quarters is a beautiful, luxurious home overlooking the ocean. The house is also mainly comprised of, you have probably already guessed this, glass. Rhett decrees the new home "sweet" and becomes even more overjoyed at the two new video systems the Glass" have bought him. Ruby laments that their dad would not have allowed these systems and correctly dismisses her new wardrobe as the Glass" trying to buy the children"s happiness.
At this point the film can go down an entirely different road and explore the emotional hardships these changes have created in Ruby, while also dealing with Terry"s attempt to be a father figure to Ruby. With actors of this credibility, that seems the best route to go.
But "The Glass House" leads us on a path that is littered with broken glass, and sadly, we have lost our shoes.
Ruby gradually realizes that the Glass" are not the perfect neighbors they used to be. Does Terry stare at the bikini wearing Ruby for a little too long? Does Erin"s occupation as a doctor necessitate her shooting up mysterious drugs every chance she gets? And finally, why were the Baker"s not driving their car the night they died while their old car is safely parked at Terry"s office?
Of course, the Glass" have explanations for everything but their explanations are as believable as the dialogue in this script.
Screenwriters have to realize that by having all teenagers call their parents "rents" and by having them use the word "whatever," they are not achieving real dialogue, only the reality that "Clueless" created six years ago.
It is amazing and sad that such a fine cast was assembled for this trashy, TV movie deserving thriller. Leelee Sobieski proved in "Joan of Arc" that she is one of the finest young actresses today, but elevating this material is too much an obstacle to place on her shoulders.
Stellan Skarsgrd is also one of the most interesting actors around. It is great to see him in another high profile role that he deserves so much, but material this bad hints that he should stick to the more independent films in which he excels like "Timecode" and "Breaking the Waves." Diane Lane and Bruce Dern are two other excellent actors who will sadly have to list this film and their performances in it on their resumes.
"The Glass House" also fails to be as atmospheric and creepy as it needs to be. While "Alien" and "The Shining" turned their surroundings into a living, breathing character that could educe as much viewer response as the occupants themselves, this glass house remains more in the backdrop of the story than as an active part.
The house may amplify all sounds and provide many views of character"s reflections but the viewer never really feels like this glass house is going to shatter any time soon.