I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
Directed by: Oz Perkins.
Written by: Oz Perkins.
Starring: Ruth Wilson (Lily), Paula Prentiss (Iris Blum), Lucy Boynton (Polly), Bob Balaban (Mr. Waxcap), Brad Milne (Groom), Erin Boyes (Young Iris).
I admire the ambition of Oz Perkins I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, as well as the atmosphere that Perkins is able to create, and sustain, for the entire 90 minute runtimes of the film. Yet, I don’t actually much like the film – it feels more like an experiment than a film – or perhaps a short film that was needlessly made into a feature without actually expanding the story. It is a horror film – a haunted house film to be specific, and that may have something to do with (haunted house movies usually are not my thing – they don’t scare me like they do some others). Yet, despite all of this, I would jump at the chance to see Perkins’ first film – The Blackcoat’s Daughter aka February (which hasn’t actually been released next) or anything else Perkins makes in the future. Why? Because the atmosphere and filmmaking on display in the film are wonderful – it’s just that it serving a pointless, dull, slow-moving story.
The film opens on the face of Lily (Ruth Wilson), who informs us in voiceover that she is, in fact, the pretty thing that lives in the house – that she is a hospice nurse, is 28 years old and “will never be 29 years old”. We see her get a job for Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), a near silent older woman, once a famous author, not just waiting for death. We get two scenes of exposition – one as Lily is on the phone with a friend, where we learn some of her backstory and one as Lily sits down with Mr. Waxcap (Bob Balaban), Iris’ lawyer, more concerned about maintaining the estate than the house, who tells us about Iris’ career as a writing – including the famous novel The Lady in the Walls – which has a main character named Polly, which is what Iris insists on calling Lily. Even with that, and the strange goings on in the house (mostly involving mold), Lily only slowly reads the thin novel – so that Perkins can reveal scenes from the novel, that seem to take place in the same house, at appropriate times.
Perkins knows the clichés of the haunted house movie, and he is not afraid to use them at times – although, mostly, he avoids them. He doesn’t really like big “BOO” moments of any kind, preferring to slowly unsettle you in the audience with his slow reveals, the calm voiceovers, and creepy use of music and sound. The film moves slow – too slow really – and although Perkins command over tone and atmosphere is absolute, his inability to do much with the story grows frustrating. The film is like a 30 minute short, stretched into a 90 minute feature.