I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016) Review

Horrorific content by Jessica Gomez on February 05th, 2020 | Movie Review | Slow Burn, Possession, Haunted, Female Revenge

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It's about a young nurse taking care of an elderly author who lives in a haunted house.

Oz Perkins’s debut film was The Blackcoat’s Daughter, but I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House was technically released first as a Netflix Original. It stars Ruth Wilson (The Little Strangers), Paula Prentiss (The Stepford Wives), Lucy Boynton (Apostole), Bob Balaban (Altered States), Erin Boyes and Brad Milne.

Netflix Original Horror

Pretty Thing That Lives In The House Review

The arty exploration of the female psyche - and society’s treatment of that psyche - through a haunted house allegory was ambitious, but it wasn’t quite the scare I was expecting.

Lily is sent to care for elderly horror author Iris Blum, who is suffering from dementia. It appears that Lily is facing death herself, as indicated by the opening monologue. The way she’s speaking makes it seem as if she’s reading from a book. We never get to know if that’s what she’s doing.

We learn that Lily is going through a rough breakup with her fiance during a phone call to a friend, when the ghost of the house first makes her presence known. This is the first of many clues that Lily is not in control of her own life.

The timeframe in which the story takes place is ambiguous, signaling to us that this really could happen in any modern time. There is very little dialogue featured, and in the limited conversations Lily has with Iris, Iris refers to her only as Polly, who is one of the characters in Iris’s novels. We come to learn that Iris has always believed her house has been haunted by Polly, a young woman from the Victorian era who was killed by her new husband, and she has written Polly’s story as has been told to her through Polly’s eyes. 

More insight into Lily’s life would have made me care more about her as a character. We know very little about her except that she’s single, meager, and easily frightened, so it didn’t exactly devastate me to know her tragic outcome from the opening scene. I didn’t care for her character - particularly the way she spoke - but Wilson gave a cryptic and memorable performance. 

The timelines jump around, which makes it impossible to know if the ghosts are really there, or if they are simply a figment of the imagination of a woman whose mind is deteriorating. We see Polly from time to time, but her face is always contorted, so we never know if it’s really Polly, or if she is one and the same with Lily and/or Iris. Lily’s own dated language and syntax make her seem as if she’s from another generation. Is she afraid to read The Woman in the Walls because she scares easily, or is it because she does not want to realize her own fate? Lily’s inevitable death is not a murder - her own psyche and mental frailty is the cause. As she said herself, in my favorite line of the film: “We make our own ghosts by looking, but pretending not to see.”

Toxic gender roles abound throughout, and they land most obviously with Mr. Waxcap (Bob Balaban), the keeper of the Blum estate. Lily makes important points about an area of the house that needs to be repaired for safety, but Mr. Waxcap brushes them off as invalid. His key, marked “Master”, is used to lock up the house for the final time.

Worth Watching? 

Pretty Thing is more of an atmospheric thriller than it is pure horror. There is never true quiet - ambient sounds are always quite loud, which perhaps lends itself to a crumbling mind - but the scares would have been amplified if there was true silence instead. There is only one scene depicting violence, and it cuts off before any gore. I would categorize it as a slow burn - a very, very slow burn - with only small moments of payoff. If you’re waiting for a big, climactic scene at the end, I’m afraid to inform you that it isn’t coming.  

If you’re into gothic supernatural horror, and you don’t mind that there are few horror elements, then you may find yourself loving this film. Patience is required; you must allow yourself time to unfold the story piece by piece.

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