Review: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

Director(s)Osgood Perkins
Principal CastRuth Wilson as Lily Saylor
Paula Prentiss as Iris Blum
Lucy Boynton as Polly Parsons
Bob Balaban as Mr. Waxcap
Release Date2016
Running Time 87 minutes

When I heard that Oz Perkins was releasing his next film I was more than excited. Despite having heaps of garbage, Netflix has a surprising number of gems, and under Perkins’ deft hand, I hoped one more could be added to the library. Thankfully, I was right. Perkins had taken the slow burn elements from his first movie, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, and amped them up to create a surreal almost ethereal audio-visual experience. This is not the movie for people who want jump scares, answers, or a clear story-line. It’s thought provoking, suspenseful, mesmerizing, and pays off in the way it executes its ideas rather than being a spectacle for spectacle’s sake.

The movie follows the intersecting tales of three women and their independent yet related interactions within a house. It opens up with a narration from Lily, a nurse who informs us of her incoming death in the house, as a specter. She recounts her journey in the house from the beginning, when she came in as live-in-nurse to help famed horror author, Iris Blum. As strange things happen in the house, the audience joins Lily through a visceral, strange, and out of bounds journey that always raises questions, but rarely answers them in direct ways.

Wilson does a great job as the lead. As the narrator she channels a strange melancholy aura . It’s eerie and hearing her solemnly narrating her eventual death makes that feeling even more intense. However, as her corporeal self, she’s just a poor nurse trying to do her job in a wonky household. She’s not looking for trouble and comes off as endearing. Despite being different, both performances are believable and knowing where Lily’s eventual journey is going to go, makes analyzing her narrative intonations that much more interesting. Wilson makes you want to know why it happened.

The movie fascinated me in its exploration of death and the way it furnishes a source of meaning between people. Everyone has an impact on each other, so even when they die they never vanish. There’s an impact to their existence that pervades and expands, filling out cracks and crevices. The movie makes that idea more literal by having a spectral Lily narrate portions of the movie. There’s a strange perverse pleasure in knowing that the lead you’re following is dead and talks about their death as though they’re still very much there. This is also why the ending worked so well for me. It’s not grandiose in a traditional sense, but it really pulls together all the thematic and story threads in a neat package.

Despite being only 87 minutes, Perkins also knows how to create a sense of dread and eeriness. Shots are slow and diverse. There are gorgeous panning shots and zoom ins that highlight how alone/not alone Lily really is in the house. The camera lingers on the faces of our actresses in a way that flips a masculine gaze. A pretty thing in the frame, but it’s framed for something tragic and otherworldly, rendering it as something that’s difficult to process. There are also no cheap jump scares. Things come into frame and linger. Their presence is what’s terrifying. Not some crazy noise that tells you to be scared of it. That being said, I thought some of the shots felt excessive. I wished there were a few more scenes thrown in that showed more of the mystery of the lives of our lead women ( I would talk about them but that’d be a spoiler). The movie could have swapped out a few of its longer tracking shots for those. I think it would’ve added to the nuance of the themes, without revealing more of the “mystery”.

Report Card

TLDRI Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is not a movie for everyone. If you want something like The Conjuring , with nice jump scares and a straightforward plot, you won’t get it. This movie thrives on atmosphere and mystery (sometimes a little too much). It comes off as poetic, almost like an Edgar Allen Poe story come to life. It’s provocative, mesmerizing, and will have you genuinely thinking about your impact on the world .
Grade A+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

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