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Foster Careless

Orphans meet evil in The Glass House -- and it’s the script.



You may think it’s just a canard, but if you don’t believe studios still pick many scripts for production just by reading the first few pages and nothing else, please focus your short attention span on the first 10 minutes of The Glass House.

The first eight pages of this script have the seeds of a really cool, high-concept paranoia thriller. Ruby and Rhett Baker (Leelee Sobieski and Trevor Morgan) are slightly rebellious Valley kids whose parents are killed in an auto accident. After family friend Terry Glass (Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd) gives a moving eulogy, the kids—lacking any close family—are sent to live with Terry and his wife, Erin (Diane Lane), in a spectacular Malibu cliff house.

At this point, you can almost hear some Brylcreemed executive slamming the screenplay shut, removing the ball gag from the mouth of the director he keeps locked in his closet, and flinging the poor sap down the hall into pre-production. He really should have read on.

At first, the kids have culture shock (Rhett is grossed out by calamari). But with all the subtlety of a boot to the skull, we soon figure out there are more slimy things in this house than the squid. Awkward, non sequitur, non-compelling complications ensue. The kids are told to sleep in the same room. The Glasses fight all the time. Erin, who’s a doctor, shoots up in the TV room one night, leaving the spike in her arm for Ruby to find. Terry, who’s got money problems, even makes odd advances on Ruby, though they’re more confusing than lecherous.

It’s only in the final 112 pages where the script falls apart from lots of sloppy foreshadowing, too-early revelations and director Daniel Sackheim’s depressingly rote work, all of which combine to kill any suspense. The third act also gives off the slightly smoky aroma of a film that’s been re-cut and re-shot dozens of times, further deadening the visceral impact. It’s a bad story poorly executed, even with a mostly talented cast at work.

Sackheim, a first-time film director who worked on NYPD Blue, photographs all the safe beauty he can find (rain on windows, Pacific Coast Highway vistas, Leelee’s heaving bosoms). He’s not visually ambitious, and though his script cries out for help, he films this glorified Lifetime movie as Hitchcock For Beginners. He plays everything straight—from the undulating piano soundtrack to the disgracefully contrived ending, which lingers for 10 minutes after it’s lost any inkling of suspense.

It doesn’t help that the lead actress, making a bid for stardom in her first seven-figure role, is caught in an age dichotomy. Leelee (even her name suggests a cruel childhood prank from which she never recovered) looks too young to be wearing all this makeup, yet she still looks too old to be playing a 16-year-old (she was around 18 when it was filmed). She runs around in a bikini for one completely superfluous scene, then spends the rest of the movie crawling, sneaking and screaming through the house.

It’s hard to imagine anybody pulling this off, let alone a skinny girl from the Valley. Ruby is one of those movie characters who always knows exactly what time to wake from a dead sleep in order to see something suspicious, or exactly what door to peek through at exactly the right time. The validity of her paranoia should be the crux of the film, but from the opening minutes, it’s quite obvious to everyone that she’s in real trouble.

And it’s torture to watch SkarsgÃ¥rd, an actor of sometimes astonishing subtlety and nuance, turned into a sweating, heaving, plodding sociopath. There are exactly two moments of true is-he-or-isn’t-he suspense—and even those are completely undermined by the film’s trailers, which give away the Glasses’ true motives anyway. SkarsgÃ¥rd surely was paid a ton of money, but one’s credibility can only be sold so many times.

Round about the part where Terry comes storming into the house yelling, “Erin, it took some doing, but I finally found some pharmaceutical morphine!” we realize the picture has slid off that narrow mountain road and into the sea. The nadir, which arrives shortly before the horrible finale, comes when Ruby blows her top and accuses Terry of everything that everybody in the audience already knows he’s done.

“That’s not only insane—it’s hurtful!” Terry growls.

Funny, I was thinking the same thing about The Glass House.

The Glass House (PG-13) H Directed by Daniel Sackheim. Starring Leelee Sobieski, Stellan Skarsgård and Diane Lane.