Starring Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss, Lucy Boynton, Bob Balaban, Brad Milne
Directed by Oz Perkins
It’s rare to be surprised these days. But God bless Netflix, as they’re still outside of the standard release system, so sometimes amazing things just show up one day.
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House is one of those amazing things.
A few days before Halloween, there it was. A Netflix Original movie, clearly a horror film, just sitting there waiting for me to watch it.
I’m here to gleefully report that it’s an instant classic.
The film is best described as Shirley Jackson adapted by David Lynch. In a surreal, dreamlike way, the very Jackson-esque tale of a haunted house and a terrified woman plays out slowly, deliberately. Virtually nothing resembling a jump scare, much of the dialogue said in a whisper, relying on mood and dread to bring your unease instead of throwing horrors into your face, the film gently works its way into your skin and makes itself at home. Then, like the frog that doesn’t realize it’s being boiled, it slowly raises the tension until you find yourself on edge as things escalate to their conclusion.
The story is simple: a very Jackson-like female horror writer from the period of the early 60’s is now at the end of her life It’s intimated that alzheimers is to blame, and she now requires a full-time live-in nurse. Enter Lily, a young woman who announces at the very start that she is the pretty thing that lives in the house. And, in my favorite line in the film, that she’s 28 years old…and will never be 29. This statement, made quietly and without drama, sets the tone. Inevitability. Lily’s voiceover makes it very clear: you cannot buy a haunted house, you may only borrow it from the ghosts, and this is clearly the tale of how she meets her end in a bad way.
From there, we flow through a few months with Lily as she deals with the reality of living in an old house with an old woman barely conscious enough to converse, otherwise isolated and alone. Strange things start to happen. The author only refers to Lily as the character of her most famous book: a young woman who died in a house inhabited by an author who wrote her story down as the plot of a novel. Lily is open with the viewer and the other characters that she can’t handle fear, that she isn’t up to even reading the author’s books. This leaves her very vulnerable and at the mercy of whatever is haunting the house.
All of this is portrayed with elegance and depth by Ruth Wilson as Lily, a British actress who, till now, has primarily been in British cinema and television. Her performance here is wonderful, I want to see more of her. The legendary Paula Prentiss appears as the author, Blum, alternately creepy and compassionate. Everyone else is acting in their movie.
The film was written and directed by Osgood Perkins, whose very famous father once menaced women in showers while dressed as his mother. The elder Perkins was an accomplished director as well as an actor, and it’s clear the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree. Perkins’ direction and script are the real stars here. I dropped David Lynch as a point of reference only because I can’t think of another director capable of turning a simple ghost story into such a surreal and mindtwisting tale. It’s a gorgeous film, incredibly powerful in it’s tiny, quiet voice.
The only downside is the ending. I get where he was going, I just didn’t find it as satisfying as a more clear and defined ending with more answers might have been. Not bad, not frustrating, but I feel it was a moment of style over substance, and I wanted a little more substance before the credits rolled.
Beyond that, I can’t recommend the film enough. To have such a gem just dropped in our laps with no fanfare, no months of trailers and PR, just suddenly there perfect and ready for us…it’s a great time for film lovers. Turn down the lights, make some hot cocoa, and sit down with this film. I promise you’ll be entranced and unnerved.