Sixteen-year-old Ruby Baker (Leelee Sobieski) and her eleven-year-old brother Rhett (Trevor Morgan) lose their parents, Dave and Grace, in a car accident. Their parents' will is not a recent one but, in accordance with its terms, the children are placed under the guardianship of family neighbors from some years back, the childless couple Erin (Diane Lane) and Terry (Stellan Skarsgård) Glass, who live in a large glass house in Malibu.
There are early indications that all is not well. The children have to share a room; they are no longer educated privately; Rhett is allowed to play with games consoles at all times; and Ruby is made uneasy by Terry's sexual hints when they are alone. Ruby comes across unlabeled pharmaceuticals and sees Erin injecting herself, though the couple claim this is for diabetes. Ruby tries unsuccessfully to get the children's estate and trust fund lawyer, Alvin Begleiter (Bruce Dern), to accept her concerns, and a visiting social worker is taken in by the couple's assurances.
Ruby discovers mail from the children's maternal Uncle Jack (Chris Noth) in the trash, along with a letter from a private school indicating the Glasses unregistered the children and pocketed the $30,000+ tuition money. Ruby also finds signs that Terry is in debt to loan sharks, and she gradually realizes her new foster parents are after the siblings' $4 million trust fund. Ruby becomes suspicious of her parents' death and discovers evidence of the Glasses involvement.
After unsuccessfully attempting to escape, the kids are recaptured. The Glasses drug Ruby, and Terry tells Erin they must get rid of Ruby. Overcome by guilt and having lost her medical license due to her drug abuse, Erin commits suicide. Terry locks the kids in the basement and sabotages his car, expecting the kids to make another escape attempt. However, the loan sharks, alerted by Ruby, appear at Terry's house, kill Mr. Begleiter (who has come to confront Terry and revealed his complicity), repossess Terry's Jaguar, and insist on taking a ride. Terry begs them to reconsider, or to at least take another car, but eventually gives in. The car goes over a ledge and crashes, killing the loan sharks, though Terry survives.
Meanwhile, the children are picked up by a friendly cop. The policeman stops at the scene of the accident and, while investigating, Terry knocks him out. After climbing back up the embankment, and armed with a gun, Terry tries to lure Ruby and Rhett toward him. Ruby hits Terry with the police car and kills him instantly. In the end, Ruby and Rhett end up living with their Uncle Jack, who takes them to Chicago, where they visit their parents' grave and embrace each other as the credits roll.
The film was released on VHS and DVD on January 2, 2002. A Blu-ray version of the film has yet to be released. The original cut of the film was reported to be 180 minutes long, with 74 minutes worth of footage missing from the theatrical cut. Kip Pardue played Leelee Sobieski's love interest in the original cut though all of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. Of all the deleted footage, only two scenes managed to survive. They are included on the DVD as deleted scenes (listed below):After Ruby faints when she finds the cops at her house, she wakes up the next morning believing her parents' accident was only a nightmare. When she heads downstairs, the neighbors are there to tell her it wasn't. Ruby sits at the table and cries as the camera slowly pans away from her.Ruby and Rhett are seen at their parents' funeral burying their ashes at the cemetery.
Because of the film's critical and financial failure, the studio had little interest in keeping unused footage and the missing 74 minutes worth of footage has since been considered lost.
The film opened at number two in its opening weekend at the US box office, behind Hardball, in which Diane Lane also stars. The Glass House grossed $18,150,259 domestically and $5,469,350 overseas, grossing a total of $23,619,609. The film's production budget was $30 million, resulting in a box office bomb.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that the film received positive reviews by 21% of the 84 surveyed critics. The average rating was 4.2 out of 10, and the consensus is: "Due to obvious plot twists and foreshadowing, The Glass House fails to thrill. By the end, it degenerates into ludicrousness." Roger Ebert rated the film 2 out of 4 stars and criticized the film's script. Writing in The New York Times, A. O. Scott called it unintentionally funny. Robert Koehler of Variety also called the film unintentionally funny and questioned why so many talented actors signed on to a poor script. Edward Guthmann, of the San Francisco Chronicle, criticized the film's violence and the timing of the release, which coincided with the September 11 attacks (in fact, for many critics it was the first film they saw after returning to work). In a more positive review, USA Today's Claudia Puig rated the film two out of four stars but called it "eerily engrossing."
A direct-to-video sequel, Glass House: The Good Mother, was released in 2006. The film did not feature any of the original characters and did not take place in the same house.