Director: Osgood Perkins
Cast: Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss
Plot: A easily-frightened live-in nurse (Wilson) is tasked with caring for a popular crime writer (Prentiss) in the last months of her life.
The ‘solitary girl wandering around a haunted house’ movie has been done a lot of times before. In fact, it is pretty tricky to get right, considering all the good beats have been covered over the last two decades. I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House doesn’t ever try to break away from this staple, landing it in a pretty risky territory right from the start. However, as Netflix have often proven with clever writing and a thoughtful style, the entertainment empire could be the one production company to pull it off.
And the film is definitely a visual treat. Osgood Perkins throws the rulebook out of the window and almost approaches his horror as an art-house thriller. With a narrative that can be perceived in multiple ways and a love for repeating the same old beats, this is a movie that has clearly had a lot of thought put into it. Every angle could be open for debate, be it the mould stains on the wall being a conventional plot device or a reflection on the rotting characters in the house. The dreamy way the story is told captivates before Perkins has even started telling his story. The entire movie is dripping with atmosphere and tension, the kind of film that has you with your heart in your mouth for its entire running time. As Ruth Wilson’s live-in nurse uncovers the secrets buried in the house, and the possibilities of scares begins to mount up, every frame is a potential enemy. Perkins takes great delight in tricking us with faux-jump scares. Moments set up for the perfect spooky jump and then carrying on, pretending to be oblivious of the set-up he just created. Our lead stands facing a door with a black second doorway just behind her, half out of shot. Mirrors propped in suspiciously convenient vantage points. It’s the kind of script James Wan from Insidious and the Conjuring would have picked up and rewritten to satisfy his malicious horror cravings. However, Perkins shows restraint and prefers to slowly drip-feed us a gripping story about a young girl, the subject of a crime writer’s novel, who may or may not be real, who died in the very house the film takes place. It works as the perfect build-up to Netflix’s original horror story
But a build-up needs a climax. And surely some of those false set-ups could have easily have been real set-ups. What I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House ends up doing is creating a patience-testing two hour film that is in dire need of a few more pay-offs to make the whole affair worth sitting through. For every frame I admire and careful directional decision that impresses, there is a part of me that cannot admit that this feels like an empty horror. As wonderful as the director is, this film sorely needs some real scares. While it does the over-bearing dread well and several moments create a chilling sensation across your body, it fails on the terror front. The film boasts about two jump scares and neither will do much for the horror aficionados in the audience. And the real shame is that if Perkins indulged a little more, it wouldn’t have looked out of place. In fact, it would probably make I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House one of the horrors of the year. While movies like Woman In Black knew when to deny scares, but also the right time to give them, Perkins keeps us waiting for too long. A few more lingering shots of the ghost in the background wouldn’t have gone amiss and even if we only had a single ‘over-the-top, edge-of-your-seat’ jump, we would have been satisfied. But Perkins is so fixated on the horror playing on the back of your mind, he forgets to let us have the superficial side of horror. As a result, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House is slightly wasteful.
Final Verdict: Yes, the cinematography is stunning, but when the director refuses to embrace the horror genre, you end up with a vacant movie.