The problem with “suspense thrillers” nowadays is that in an effort to “surprise” the audience, the filmmakers do some dumb things. Or, to be more precise, they have their characters do some dumb things. This is the case with the Leelee Sobieski film, The Glass House, a movie that would be considered a throwaway film if not for the wattage power of its star.
The Glass House opens with the sudden death of the Bakers, a loving husband and wife killed in a car accident on their way home from their anniversary celebration. The how’s and why’s of their death are not explored, and instead the movie quickly shifts to focus on 16-year old Ruby (Leelee Sobieski) and her 11-year old brother Rhett (Trevor Morgan) as they go to live with the Glasses, Erin and Terry, who are their parents’ choice as their new guardians.
As soon as the children move into the Glasses’ house — appropriately enough a house with a lot of glass — Ruby begins noticing things that concerns her. For one, Erin (Diane Lane) is eavesdropping on her phone calls and Terry (Stellan Skarsgard) is skulking around the house like a peeping Tom ogling her. If all that wasn’t bad enough, Ruby begins to suspect that Erin has a drug problem and Terry might be in trouble with some local mobsters, and oh yeah, her parents’ death might not be an accident after all…
A smart thriller this one ain’t. Sometimes The Glass House goes out of its way to show how dumb it is, as in the matter of a certain room that the Glasses force Ruby and Terry to share. Later in the film, when Ruby informs a social worker that she has to sleep in the same room with her 11-year old brother, the Glasses miraculously locates a second room in the house just in time for the social worker’s visit. Now mind you, this sequence of events is supposed to be “shocking” and “suspenseful” as we wait for the social worker to discover the odd rooming arrangements, but it comes across as supremely foolish. For one, why did the Glasses make Ruby sleep in the same room with Rhett in the first place, since they seem to have that spare room all nice and ready? I scoffed at this sequence, and you will, too.
The Glass House is most effective when it follows Ruby’s investigation into the real cause of her parents’ death, but when writer Wesley Strick tries to be clever he ends up contradicting himself. The entire sequence with the rooming arrangement is one; another is Ruby’s on-again, off-again intellect — which means she’s extremely bright and insightful one moment (as towards the end of the film) but completely clueless on other occasions (the situation with the room and the lawyer). The movie sets up the Glasses to be the villains, but makes the mistake of trying to give us a “soft take” on them. As a result, Terry and Erin are never quite as menacing as they should be and one wonders why it’s taking Ruby so long to escape the duo.
Star LeeLee Sobieski does a very good job as the sympathetic Ruby, who suddenly realizes her perfect guardians are far from perfect, and are actually capable of murder — again. Trevor Morgan, as Ruby’s brother Rhett, has a sleep-through role, and the boy is written as much too dense and oblivious to all the signs of trouble around him. As the evil guardians, Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgard ranges from strangely eerie to quite pathetic, which means they’re never as scary as they should be in order to be effective villains. Skarsgard, with his creeping around and obvious lust for Ruby, comes across a perverted and horny. Lane’s Erin, on the other hand — well, the less said about her character the better.
Director Daniel Sackheim is a TV director, and I believe this is his first movie. It shows. The camera movements are never creative and the action is very straightforward. Even the appearance of the Glasses’ glass house is curiously uninteresting, which is something of a surprise since a lot could have been done with its glass foundations and properties. As a source of comparison, the filmmakers of 13 Ghosts put their glass house to much better use.
The Glass House’s Leelee Sobieski is destined for stardom, and this movie is just another middle of the road film she has to do in the name of “paying her dues” until those good roles come her way. She’ll do much better movies in the future, that’s for sure. It must be noted that LeeLee’s Ruby character is probably the most “Jane on the Spot” character in the history of movies. The girl always manages to be at the right place at the right time. What timing!
Daniel Sackheim (director) / Wesley Strick (screenplay)
CAST: Leelee Sobieski …. Ruby Baker
Diane Lane …. Dr. Erin Madre-Glass
Stellan Skarsgard …. Terry Glass
Trevor Morgan …. Rhett Clark Baker
Bruce Dern …. Mr. Alvin Begleiter