The Glass Man review – insubstantial and transparent Clear as mud

December 5, 2020
Alix Turner 0
Film, Film Reviews
2.5

Summary

A psychological thriller that follows its central character’s mental decline due to debt, shame, and the weight of expectations. Promising, but somewhat cheaper and more predictable than it should have been.

2.5

Summary

A psychological thriller that follows its central character’s mental decline due to debt, shame, and the weight of expectations. Promising, but somewhat cheaper and more predictable than it should have been.

I’d read about The Glass Man receiving rave reviews at FrightFest in 2011, and many who had seen it back then exclaimed “at last!” when distribution was finally in the bag. I can’t help it: I had high hopes. I had planned to watch it tonight, but last night idly pressed “play” and I was instantly engaged, mesmerized by the clanging bathroom window while Andy Nyman conducted a miserable morning shave. Unfortunately, the shine wore off quickly (or perhaps wasn’t there at all), and even before the predictable reveal about halfway through, disappointment set in and kept increasing to the end.

The Glass Man is about Martin (Andy Nyman), who lives what appears to be a contented life in a smart house (with a cleaner), married to Julie (Neve Campbell). He goes out with a suit, tie, and briefcase each morning but hasn’t told the adoring Julie that he was fired some weeks ago. The weight of shame and expectations holds him back from owning up to her about their debts, and he escapes from those worries in fancy cafes, savoring every last pound in his pocket. But one night, the rough and intimidating Pecco (James Cosmo) comes to call, demanding a debt repaid. He seems to soften a little after a while and tells Martin he’ll write off the debt if he gives him an unspecified hand in his work that night. From there, The Glass Man takes us on a weird night-time ride through Martin’s problems, real and imagined.

Martin is a believably mild and perhaps bland middle-aged man; weak in some respects, but relatably so. Fear, shame, and debt can make a person both feel small and react impulsively, which certainly happens in Martin’s case. Julie can see something is up, but cannot see what it is: he wears a mask around her, but it’s not a terribly secure one. Her character was not well-written I’m afraid and undemanding enough that she could have been played by a Sindy Doll (who would probably have demonstrated a much better English accent). Cosmo’s Pecco, mind you, is very interesting, full of contrasts and insights, and has exactly the threatening presence that he needs.

Written and directed by Cristian Solimeno, The Glass Man felt as if it was going to turn into a British Falling Down; but as it had been described in the publicity as a “psychological horror thriller”, I held my breath before grabbing onto that expectation. It is suspenseful at times, downright spooky in a few brief scenes in the second half, but for the most part, I found I was observing the final stage in Martin’s decline, rather than truly engaging with it or feeling it. And that’s a real shame because it was easy to understand how someone like Martin would respond to his situation, but understanding is not the same as empathy.

Despite its good points, The Glass Man was ultimately unsatisfying to me. Firstly, the production came across as cheap: I had to remind myself a couple of times that I wasn’t watching a made-for-TV afternoon play. The locations were clearly very standard sets, rather than classy houses, and the cardboard cut-out Julie sadly compounded that. There were a number of moments in the second half that were clearly intended as surprises, but they were such familiar tropes that I expected them; and on seeing them, I expected others to follow. They were indeed so familiar that I groaned with disappointment, and this disappointment spoiled what could have been an insightful look at mental strain, especially as faced by men.

There’s another thing. I would describe The Glass Man as a psychological thriller that follows its central character’s mental decline due to debt, shame, and his sense of being unable to live up to society’s expectations as a good provider. However, the publicity told me it was a “detailed study of toxic masculinity”, and I have the impression that is what Solimeno intended. I didn’t see any of the traits usually associated with the phrase, certainly not on Martin’s part: he was not aggressive, dominant, or a misogynist. Just because the story focuses on some stressful aspects of men’s lives, that doesn’t necessarily make their masculinity “toxic”.

In The Glass Man, debt was much more damaging than Martin’s sense of his gender, and the impact it can have was definitely presented well. It is not as well produced as it really ought to have been though, and any viewer who has seen a number of other psychological thrillers may see through the writing with ease.


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