Wednesday, September 19, 2001

The Glass House

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2001 at 12:00 AM

In a glass house, a modern museum of deception and secrets, a girl learns to be careful — and how to plot revenge.

Lesson one: Eyes may strip away privacy. Ruby Baker (Leelee Sobieski, Here on Earth), a recently orphaned nubile Venus, isn’t about to change for bed while her pesky kid brother, Rhett (Trevor Morgan, Hardball), peeps at her from under his covers. Leaving the cell-like room that their new guardians, the Glasses, have put them up in, Ruby still finds herself on display under the shadowy gaze of Terry, Mr. Glass (Stellan Skarsgård, Timecode).

Treacherous as well as lecherous, Terry teaches her lesson number two: “With all the glass, you can hear everything,” he tells bikini-clad Ruby, surprising her as she takes a late-night swim in the pool. The transparent walls of his Malibu Beach showplace have ears: his own and those of his wife Erin (Diane Lane, Hardball). Erin lectures Ruby against trash-talking the Malibu Kens and Barbies of her new high school, after listening in on one of her phone calls. But when you live in a glass house, you shouldn’t throw stones.

While studying Hamlet, Ruby spies and overhears enough to smell something rotten. Though she may look more the part of Ophelia, Ruby stumbles into vengeance with a girlish take on Shakespeare’s tragic Danish prince.

But The Glass House isn’t a tragedy. Beneath the glistening dark visuals of director Daniel Sackheim (the man behind such shadowy Fox-TV series as “The X Files” and “Harsh Realm”) and within the twisted film noir story of screenwriter Wesley Strick (Final Analysis, Cape Fear), spiked with his typically shallow studies of Hitchockian suspense, lies a family melodrama. Strick’s plot of orphans and the evil that attempts to prey on them essentially updates the cult classic The Night of the Hunter (1955).

We never truly warm to Ruby, but don’t blame Sobieski. Ruby loses her innocence before she loses her parents; she swaps her naiveté for getting mad and getting even. Her humanity’s obscured behind the allusive visual thematics of the filmmakers and caught in the works of their adrenaline-milking. Like Terry’s drained tumbler of vodka on the rocks, The Glass House may chill, but ends up empty.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at letters@metrotimes.com.

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