I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

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Release: Friday, October 28, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Oz Perkins

Directed by: Oz Perkins

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House plays out as a chilly haunted house thriller with a literary twist. It’s something a writer might gravitate towards given the film’s concept-heavy plot, but an over-reliance on mood and atmosphere, not to mention some really pretentious dialogue, also make it something horror fans or fans of interesting movies in general are bound to reject.

Oz Perkins’ sophomore feature is the epitome of style over substance, but the style is actually pretty effective . . . for about 45 minutes. Throughout this slow-burning thriller viewers must contend with ghostly spirits, lots of things moving in slow-motion, artsy shots of a creepy home and its interior, and yes, the aforementioned Cormac McCarthy-syndrome — characters saying (or thinking) things that may sound nice and look snazzy on paper, but that ultimately come across as pretentious and unnatural. Pretty Thing (I think it’s unreasonable to expect me to keep writing out the full title) is actually just that — it’s a pretty thing; it looks good and occasionally, almost haphazardly, its brooding atmosphere leads us into a dark place that we want to immediately retreat from.

A meek and mild-mannered Ruth Wilson plays a live-in nurse hired to take care of a horror author named Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss) in her dying days. Blum has been cooped up in a creaky 18th Century home that may or may not have a lot of spooky history attached to it. Blum’s estate manager Mr. Waxcap (a name almost as good as that of the actor playing the part, the one and only Bob Balaban) encourages Lily to read some of her work, in particular a story that seems to be based on a murder that occurred in this very house. But Lily scares easily so she is unable to get into the book.

As weeks turn into months Lily begins experiencing strange occurrences. She’s seeing weird things and her patient keeps calling her Polly, a character out of that very book Mr. Waxcap recommended she read, The Lady in the Walls. A nasty mold has also started to form on one of the walls downstairs. In the film’s opening voiceover we are told that a house with a death in it can never be bought or sold, it can only be borrowed by the living from the ghosts who remain in it. It’s like some sort of paranormal etiquette: you can sleep in the bed and use the kitchen but we the dead remain the key holders.

Our protagonist isn’t exactly well-developed but we do know that she doesn’t seem to mind being in isolation. We also know she’s sensitive to things that go bump in the night and rarely does she seem to be in control of things. Which just begs the question: what on earth is someone like this doing in this place? Why would you take this job? Often it can be fun watching a character well out of their depth contend with threats, but in this case the contrast seems a bridge too far. Also, how does someone who works in palliative care, scare so easily? Isn’t being perpetually surrounded by death more terrifying? Also also: why am I looking for the logic in a horror film?

Despite its elegance — the likes of which struck me as a hybrid of Alejandro Amenábar’s classic creeper The Others and Jonathan Glazer’s challenging psychodrama Under the Skin — Pretty Thing allows the mind to wander far too often. It is good at building tension and suggesting horrors that may or may not be there (which is my nice way of saying the film’s mythology becomes confusing and in a hurry) but the spirits that plague this cinematic universe are really just thinly sketched archetypes all dressed up with no place to go.

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2-5Recommendation: A film that tries to engage the intellect but falls short with an often infuriating lack of ‘action’ and a glacial pace. Ruth Wilson’s performance is solid which helps keep the viewer engaged but in the end there is so much left to be desired when everything wraps up. I am already well on my way to forgetting this one unfortunately. Though I can’t say definitively if I have been so put off by it that I never want to go near it again. It might be worth a revisit some day. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 87 mins.

Quoted: “I am very seldom required to wear white by my employers. But, anyway, I always do. It has always been that wearing white reassures the sick that I can never be touched. Even as darkness folds in on them from every side, closing like a claw.”

All content originally published on Digital Shortbread and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.indiewire.com

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16 thoughts on “I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

  1. Man, there’s too much out there to see at the moment. This won’t be on the list then as it needs to score at least six slices to have me interested. That said, I watched Mechanic Resurrection last night which isn’t going to trouble the Oscar voters.

    • Hey there, thanks for stopping by. Yeah I have to say that if I had paid to see this in theaters I would have come out a little disappointed.

  2. I can’t really handle horror, though I LOVE Ruth Wilson as an actress. I don’t think I’ll be seeing this one Tom, though the title does make it sound so intriguing.

    • Yeah this one is pretty disappointing unfortunately. It has a few things going on — if you like movies that build heavy atmosphere, this one will have you taken care of — but if you want some “stuff” to actually happen, better look elsewhere!

    • So many ‘b’s in his name. But Mr. Waxcap — really? how did they land on that name? Like, did they spin a wheel and that was the one that came up? How did they think of Waxcap, i ask you. Most entertaining part of this entire thing. . .

  3. You nailed it, man. I, too, quickly forgot about this movie and it’s doubtful that I’ll ever want to revisit it. It’s just so boring…and I LIKE boring movies.

    • Right? Boring movies can at times be interesting but this was a bridge too far. It gets so caught up in laying out a mythology that isn’t really all that interesting in the first place that it seems to just start talking to itself. kind of like that crazy woman she’s hired to take care of. What a waste of time this was

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