At a glance, Martin (Nyman) would appear to be the man who has everything. He wears fine bespoke suits and an expensive watch, drives a top-of-the-range car, and lives in a well-furnished town house with his beautiful wife (Campbell). But all of it is a thin veneer, only a nudge away from shattering. Though he may go about his routine as normal, dressing for the office and driving away first thing in the morning, and indulging in the usual luxuries, the truth is that Martin has long since been fired, and his finances are dangerously in the red. Thus far his wife has been none the wiser, until an uncomfortable encounter with his former co-workers results in a message on the answering machine which leads her to suspect the worst. But late that night, once his wife is in a pharmaceutically induced slumber, Martin recieves an unexpected visitor in the form of a debt collector (Cosmo). Big, strong, and very intimidating indeed, he’s the last person you want showing up on your doorstep in the middle of the night. However, he offers Martin the faintest glimmer of hope with a proposition; if Martin assists him in an unspecified task that very night, the debt will be cancelled. Terrified, but knowing he has no choice, Martin agrees; and the night ahead will be revealing indeed.
I feel quite privileged to have seen this potentially career-defining turn from Andy Nyman in its world premiere at FrightFest. As a festival regular and host of Sunday’s Quiz From Hell, Nyman might well be called one of FrightFest’s favourite sons; to audiences at large he is probably most recognised for his turn as the arsehole TV producer in Dead Set, plus his West End stage show Ghost Stories. While he is certainly associated with horror, he has to date been a primarily comedic figure. The Glass Man may well change all that. While there is a great deal of humour in the film and in his performance, the emphasis is far more on the tragic. As both Nyman and director/co-writer/co-star Christian Solimeno remarked in the post-screening Q&A, the title symbolises much about this man: he is transparent, thus easily ignored; he is fragile, thus easily broken; but once broken, he can be very dangerous.
Set over the course of a single day with the bulk of the action occuring after nightfall when the debt collector comes calling, this is very much one of those ‘dark night of the soul’ stories; a tale in which fears are confronted, and self-discoveries made. As these revelations have a very significant impact on proceedings, it’s tricky to discuss the narrative at length without getting into spoilers, so let’s instead focus on the nuts and bolts of the film itself. First and foremost, this is a great character piece, done proud by an excellent cast. Nyman’s performance is utterly compelling and convincing, a beautiful evocation of the weakness inherent in a great many modern men which really rings true. As the mirror opposite of this, James Cosmo is similarly awe-inspiring; strong where Martin is weak, imposing where Martin is ineffectual. Burly psychos may well be ten-a-penny in horror movies (God knows we saw enough of them on this Friday at FrightFest), but this is one with some real depth and variety, for which Cosmo deserves tremendous credit. Not to mention Christian Solimeno, who not only serves his leading men well with subtle direction and a strong script, but also does sterling work in his brief but pivotal cameo role.
That said, there are some weak links in this chain. (I was going to try some kind of glass-related metaphor there, but I just couldn’t come up with anything; what can I say, I’m on a tight deadline.) The casting of so recognisable a star as Neve Campbell may well raise a few eyebrows, particularly given that a) the role is relatively small and b) she’s playing English. Oh, how those Hollywood actresses love to do plummy English accents, and oh, how we Brits love to bitch about it. Consequently, though there is nothing especially wrong with her performance, her presence in the film can’t help being a bit distracting. Then there’s the matter of those core revelations that I just can’t go into… they’re the kind of twists that turn things so much on their head that some may be put off, for once they have occured we are left in little doubt as to how things will turn out. The net result is an ending that somewhat lacks the desired punch, particularly as the film feels a tad bit overlong.
Even so, The Glass Man is a most impressive, powerful piece of work, sure to be remembered as one of the highlights of FrightFest 2011, and almost certain to receive widespread recognition in the near future. An atmospheric slow-burn chiller, it should really put Andy Nyman on the map as an actor of considerable range and ability, and definitely marks out Christian Solimeno as a writer/director to keep an eye on.