Fresh from its screening at Toronto’s festival circuit, streaming giant Netflix bought the rights to this quiet little horror just in time for the ghouls of Halloween. There doesn’t need to be a specific holiday to enjoy I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, however. There’s room for nightmares all year round.
Ruth Wilson stars as live-in nurse Lily. Anxious and nervous all at the same time, she’s weary in an unfamiliar house. All the more so when she’s taking care of a senile, elderly author, Iris, who specialises on horror novels.
Writer/director Oz Perkins’, son of Psycho’s very own Anthony Perkins, directorial feature February (or The Blackcoat’s Daughter) received equal acclaim though garnered such little buzz down primarily to how it undecidedly went through title change and slipped onto a release on the Netflix platform in its former title. February (to which it’s again called on Netflix) merely teased Perkins’ attributes, directing familiar faces in a story that quietly horrifies, ever-so-ceaselessly dripping the type of fear that embeds itself into your mind. With his latest effort, he seems to have detoured into an even less obvious route in regards to horror.
The film opens with an ominous monologue from Wilson’s whispering husk of a voice, which fits so alarmingly well with this genre that she almost feels wasted to have never been featured in a gothic horror before now. Giving away the ultimate outcome of her story, there is an element of increasing anticipation throughout, as Perkins’ unrelenting foray into overlong shots in pitch-black doorways do well to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, not unlike an icy breeze. It’s a trick far too easy to get away with, especially with audiences that are used to frequent and generic jump scares, but this foreboding sense of absolute fear is polarising and spine-chilling.
As Iris is haunted by her literary creation, a backstory creates itself in the back of Lily’s, and our, imagination. Is this ghost real, or is Lily really just hellishly easy to frighten? Hints point to the former, but Perkins remains ambiguous. It works tremendously well in tandem with the visuals, as the film thrives to create monsters in the dark. You can’t help but let your eyes wander throughout the room, immediately attempting to suss out this haunting.
Wilson’s performance is delicate, subtle and tapered to such a fine art. She carries an alarming weight, adhering to the minute details of such a weary and subdued ghost story. She’ll easily connect but only if you let her. There’s no running, there’s minimal screaming; this a horror performance with class.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is gothic horror at its best. It resonates in a similar way to the dread-infused, slow-building epic that was Ti West’s The Innkeepers or The House of the Devil, but tailored to what I imagine to be a classic haunted house flick in the making. You’ll think twice when you look down a darkened corridor after watching this one.
Dir: Oz Perkins
Scr: Oz Perkins
Cast: Ruth Wilson, Lucy Boynton, Paula Prentiss
Prd: Robert Menzies, Rob Paris
DOP: Julie Kirkwood
Runtime: 87 minutes