Like a number of stories told before it, Seo Bok asks the question “what if we could live forever?” It’s a little more nuanced than that of course, and, yes, there’s politics involved. Lee Yong-ju’s film opens with a scientist writing a research paper within his apartment. A drone flies to his window and when he goes closer to get a look, it explodes and kills him.
Because of the assassination, there are now only one means of production of IPS cells that are capable of curing any disease: Seo Bok (Park Bo-Gum) himself. Seo Bok is a boy who was born within a lab. He is the first human capable of eternal life, yet this comes at a cost. Seo Bok must be provided with a daily cell division inhibitor injected into the back of his neck (painful) or else his cells will become cancerous. Apart from this, however, he’s capable of living forever. With the death of the scientist who developed the IPS cells that course through Seo Bok’s veins, Seo Bok must be kept in captivity to extract the cells. He has never experienced life outside of the lab. His existence in turn is weaponized as the American government vies for the possession of Seo Bok, and internal company conflict gives birth to power struggles.
Ki Heon (Gong Yoo) is tasked with transporting Seo Bok. He’s lied to as to where Seo Bok is being transported, and after violent skirmishes he’s able to escape with Seo Bok. But he and Seo Bok don’t have much time. Ki has a terminal disease while Seo Bok isn’t receiving his inhibitor injections while they’re on the run. Ki resolves to return Seo Bok to the lab, potentially motivated by the prospect of Seo Bok healing Ki’s disease. Seo Bok however, experiences life outside of the lab for the first time and doesn’t want to return to captivity to, effectively, be harvested for IPS cells for eternity.
As in Train to Busan, Gong Yoo portrays a similar sense of righteousness and care within his role. Likewise, the action scenes in Seo Bok do not disappoint. An unanticipated development in creating Seo Bok is that he can make things levitate by controlling the pressure around him. He harnesses this skill to alter the path of bullets and cause explosions, supplementing drama with supernatural action sequences. Seo Bok is director Lee Yong-ju’s first film in almost ten years, though opening atop the Korean box office suggests there will be more to come in the near future.
Glasshouse is certainly a candidate for being the most unique film we’ll see this year at the Fantasia Film Festival. The film is Kelsey Egan’s directorial debut, the latest turn for the actor-writer-stuntwoman. Glasshouse is filmed in Port Elizabeth, South Africa; however, we see little else other than an enormous building resembling a greenhouse and the surrounding forest. Civilization has been mostly eradicated by The Shred, an airborne toxin that erases memory. A matriarch and her children reside in the titular glasshouse, and do not leave the building without putting on oxygen masks. Her youngest son, Gabe (Brent Vermeulen), was exposed to The Shred momentarily as a child, and he has been mentally incapacitated ever since, struggling to say full sentences. Her oldest son, Luca, left the glasshouse years ago and never returned. His departure weighs heavily on the family, and it is hoped that he will somehow find a way back, surviving The Shred.
Surrounding the house are warning signs drawn by the youngest daughter, Daisy (Kitty Harris). The policy: shoot on sight. The glasshouse can only support a limited number of people given the oxygen that the plants release, and those who succumb to The Shred pose a threat to the family’s safety. The bodies of the killed are then used to make materials and the remains buried after a ritual. However, when an unnamed Stranger (Hilton Pelser) approaches the perimeter of the glasshouse he is spared by the oldest daughter, Bee (Jess Alexander). He joins the family, clearly unharmed by The Shred and Bee takes a liking to him. The Stranger is not trusted by the family until he constrains Gabe after Gabe goes into a dangerous frenzy after becoming frustrated. However, when Bee takes a romantic interest in The Stranger and becomes pregnant, this has cataclysmic repercussions. Choices have to be made, and each of the glasshouse’s inhabitants have their clear preferences on who should stay and who should go.
Adrienne Pearce plays the role of the matriarch, and carries a presence that is both powerful and unsettling. The family dynamic she creates is that of a cult, her being the ever-knowing, wise leader who establishes a way of life and philosophy that justifies killing strangers at the perimeter and ensures survival for the family. Her youngest daughter, Daisy, does not remember life before The Shred, and thus her naïveté is evident in a number of scenes. The Stranger makes sure to gain the affection of Daisy in an attempt to soften the matriarch’s perception of him. Still, she is untrusting of the Stranger and moreover of his influence. When the stranger claims to be Luca, the family dynamic is turned on its head as The Stranger clashes with the mother for influence over the family.
Glasshouse delves into the concept of psychological trauma as the daughters grapple with their loss of Luca in light of the Stranger’s arrival. The loss of memory – The Shred – becomes less and less of a fear and more of a blessing since one wishes to forget when their actions are the cause of great regret. Egan’s film is somewhat cryptic, but as mysteries unfold, they unfold with horror and reinforce the idea that what we know can eat away at us. Glasshouse is an astonishing film, and will hopefully be the first of many directorial efforts from Kelsey Egan.