The Glass House

“The Glass House” begins with our teen-age protagonist, Ruby Baker (Leelee Sobieski), watching a lame slasher flick called “Prom Nightmare.” She is bored by its predictability, adherence to its genre and general lack of originality.

All this does is open the door for film critics to observe that “The Glass House” is not much better. Honestly, why do movies do this to us? Never include a bad movie in your movie unless you’re sure your movie is way better.

“The Glass House” is not a bad movie, but by no means is it a very good one, either. It is somewhat atmospheric, mildly suspenseful and occasionally scary. No movie ever tried harder to accomplish something so mediocre.

Ruby and her 12-year-old brother Rhett (Trevor Morgan) are two upper-middle-class kids whose parents are killed in a car accident. As per the folks’ request, they go to live in Malibu with the Glasses, Terry (Stellan Skarsgard) and Erin (Diane Lane), wealthy people with a breathtaking house and a taste for the high life. The Glasses were friends of the Bakers’ years ago, but have not been very close lately.

Things seem OK, but a little askew. Ruby and Rhett have to share a bedroom, for example, and the Glasses have put them in public school instead of continuing them in private school. Terry is more than a little creepy, too, with his advances toward Ruby.

It turns out the Glasses aren’t quite as well-off as they used to be, with debts amassing quickly and the bank accounts dwindling. Could Ruby and Rhett’s huge trust fund be a factor in all this?

This is the third movie I have seen this year in which studying Shakespeare in English class leads a character to realize something’s afoot in his own life. This is slightly better than having a psychic come along and tell them what’s up (see “Jeepers Creepers”). And it’s not usually this obvious: This time, they’re studying “Hamlet.” Perhaps the filmmakers are counting on today’s culturally illiterate viewers not to know the plot of this play, where Hamlet’s father was killed by the man who took his place. I’ve seen “Hamlet,” though, so I wasn’t fooled. I actually jotted my incredulity in my notes: “Surely they are not telegraphing this plot twist this early in the film!” Alas, they were.

Director Daniel Sackheim keeps the pace up, anyway, playing up every possible element of tension, whether it makes sense or not. (Terry’s leering at Ruby is never really motivated or explained; it’s just something creepy to have happen.) The screenplay, by Wesley Strick, neither forges new ground nor treads too heavily upon the old. It all just sort of carries on in a generally agreeable fashion. It’s not a very convincing movie, but it is watchable.

C+ (; PG-13, a few profanities, some rather graphic.)