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'Glass House'

'Glass House' combines psychological drama with coming-of-age story

Friday, September 14, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

At first, you may think Terry Glass (Stellan Skarsgard) is just a high-living Malibu lech. When 16-year-old Ruby Baker (Leelee Sobieski) climbs out of his swimming pool and stands shivering in the night air in her red bikini, he seems to be drinking in the view with a little too much gusto in "The Glass House."

 
    'THE GLASS HOUSE'

Rating: PG-13 for sinister thematic elements, violence, drug content, language

Starring: Leelee Sobieski, Stellan Skarsgard, Diane Lane

Director: Daniel Sackheim

Critic's Call:

 
 

But Terry and Erin Glass (Diane Lane) are far less obvious and ordinary in their mistreatment of the orphaned Ruby and her 11-year-old brother, Rhett (Trevor Morgan). The children's parents were killed in a car accident after a celebratory dinner for their 20th wedding anniversary.

Ruby and Rhett apparently have no grandparents, and a Chicago uncle was estranged from his late sister. As per the Bakers' will, which left the children with enough money for the rest of their lives, former neighbors and friends Terry and Erin Glass become the children's guardians. They seem like a perfect choice and quickly move the teen and boy to their glass mansion, a cold, soulless place high on a Malibu hill.

Compared with the opening snapshot of the warm Baker home -- white picket fence, dad who worked for public radio, loving mom who complimented Ruby's artwork -- life is clearly different. Terry runs a transportation company and Erin is a physician. They order dinner out nightly which is certainly no crime, but they think an 11-year-old boy would want calamari and risotto with portobello mushrooms on his first night in his new house. And, most curiously, they settle the children into a single room.

Rhett is treated to a couple of video game systems and Ruby gets a bag of new clothes for her new start. But as time wears on, Ruby begins to feel more and more uncomfortable. It starts with Erin admonishing her to cultivate a "better attitude" and goes downhill from there -- sometimes literally.

The Glasses seem more and more sinister and every time Ruby tries to get help, she's blocked, rebuffed or proven powerless. By the time the truth begins to surface, the stakes have never been higher.

"The Glass House," written by Wesley Strick and directed by Daniel Sackheim, is a far better, more gripping thriller than I would have expected. Sackheim describes it as "Gothic updated with a contemporary handle" and a coming-of-age story set within a psychological thriller.

It makes the isolated glass house a veritable character in the movie. Sound carries throughout the edifice, which makes eavesdropping easy and hiding or sneaking about nearly impossible. The song may say it never rains in California but it does here, lending an air of oppression and an ominous mood to the proceedings.

"The Glass House" should hold your attention (it did mine) but its ending goes over the top, veering into conventional horror-film territory, and a twist about drug use strains credulity.

Star of such movies as "Here on Earth," "Deep Impact" and TV's "Joan of Arc," Sobieski has established herself as a fine young actress and she's the perfect Everyteen (rebellious, part of a pack of girls, willing to put one over on her parents) and the peripatetic Swede Skarsgard can take up residence anywhere along the good to evil continuum. Small roles are well-cast, with Bruce Dern playing a lawyer and Rita Wilson the mother killed in the accident. Kathy Baker turns up as a social worker.

Glass and the late mother's advice that "The simplest thing is the hardest -- to see what's right in front of you" -- are recurring themes. What's right in front of you is a thriller that might leave teen-agers thinking, "Gee, maybe my parents aren't so bad after all."

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