Middle-class life. A corporate job, the extortionate London home, expensive suits and the beautiful partner is instilled as the eudaimonia of society.
Think again. Director Cristian Solimenos’ thriller The Glass Man deconstructs this seeming utopia through protagonist Martin Pyrite’s (Andy Nyman) descent into debauched pandemonium, a continuum shattered by the unforeseen future. Originally screened at Frightfest in 2011 to critical acclaim, The Glass Man finally has its alleged “long-awaited” UK release on the 7 December.
Opening with Martin sleeping, we are introduced to him in his unconscious dreamworld before he starkly wakes up to the mundanity of corporate life. As the windows slam while he brushes his teeth, chaos is foreshadowed; Solimano’s subtle ability to create tension without sensationalism is impressive. Sure, watching someone brushing their teeth is basically ‘watching paint dry,’ but this scene particularly represents Nyman’s talent for expression, as his demeanour reveals the chaos bubbling beneath Martin’s polished façade. The shrewish exchange with his wife Julie (Neve Camplbell) then confirms the suspicion that yes, Martin is hiding some form of a skeleton in the closet. Campbell (who you may know from classic slasher film Scream) puts on an impeccable English accent. It’s disappointing her character exists as little but a plot device.
As an audience, we begin to see Martin’s carelessness and the existence of a double life as he opens a credit bill which sees £10,000 in precarious scarlet letters. We then learn he is keeping up appearances by putting on his suit and attending a regular life. His abhorrent dark side only reveals itself once his workmates announce they are not supposed to be seen speaking to him, as ordered by boss Anton. After learning Anton refuses to give Martin a good reference, as an audience the detective work becomes more thrilling than the actual plot itself. Martin’s Jekyll side begins to show as he slaps his wife to wake her up telling her “I’m not having an affair… I’ve been fired”—a subtle bit of British humour.
The entrance of illusive loan-shark Pecco (James Cosmo) is when the thriller takes a Faustian twist, as Martin effectively sells his soul, but for a way out, rather than knowledge. This is when the film starts to take on tragicomic elements, satirizing the recessionary lifestyle prevalent during the film’s original 2011 release. Obviously, the British thing to do is to sit down and share a biscuit and a cuppa with a 6-foot loan-shark whose imminent job is to batter you. And then drive him out in the middle of the night to do an unnamed favour.
As the two finally bond over shared compassion for their wives, Pecco tells Martin that his wife is dead. After then telling him to cover his wife’s mouth, we realise that they are one and the same as the familiar face of Campbell coughs and splutters for air. His victims then span everyone from his old friend who he almost takes a hammer to the head at, but in typical Martin-style cowers and ends up dropping it on the floor. Martin can’t even do the devil’s work, within his consciousness. Once we realise that Pecco is illusory to Martin, the turd he leaves on his friend’s doorstep and the condoms on the car symbolise the desire for debauchery that simmers underneath corporate life. It’s full of self-deprecating satire for the prudeness of British sensibility.
The tragic point for Martin reaches when Pecco asks him to shoot him during the end scene. Knowing what we know as an audience, that isn’t going to pan out well. This plot point is nothing new here, as it has been played out in countless independent films and Hollywood blockbusters. The split personality turning on his counterpart, and creating his own demise? Sounds very familiar. However, it’s not clear whether Solimeno is caricaturing it through a lack of sensationalism and a helping of mundanity. But then again, that’s what The Glass Man appears to be about, a satire of the mundanity and fragility of happiness in a middle-class lifestyle. Intentionally comedic or not, The Glass Man highlights exactly that: keeping up appearances is fragile.
Overall, Solimeno creates a thriller that is shot through with a subtle bit of wit and humour that makes the thought of constancy discomposing. However, the plot narrative has been heavily treaded before, with more flair than done in The Glass Man. The actors put in a strong performance for the material they were given—especially James Cosmo whose depiction of Pecco carries the film.
Words by Charity Swales
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