Written by J. Weagle
It was just late last year when I watched and reviewed The Blackcoat’s Daughter, the debut film of director Osgood Perkins, that I hailed as one of the best modern horror films of the decade. So, to say my anticipation for his follow up film was high would be a complete understatement and luckily this time we did not have to wait long. This time Perkins teamed with Netflix to tackle the often overdone haunted house picture and attempts to put his stamp on it in the same way he did with devil worship. It is because of this that it pains me to say that I am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House fails in its attempt and ends up being a very well directed mediocre thriller.
The film follows Lily (Ruth Wilson) a young nurse who moves into an old house to look after an elderly woman. However pretty quickly things get strange and it becomes clear that the old house carries many secrets and is being haunted. The plot feels very familiar and it is, while it does open up to some intrigue to say anything about that would spoil an already simplified paper thin plot. Like Perkins previous film this one is a slow burn with very little in the way of a cast outside of a handful of characters. While it is refreshing that someone has decided to make a haunted house movie without ridiculous over the top effects, instead relying on good old fashion camera shots to display tension, the storytelling is muddled down by the slow pace and quickly becomes tedious.
When it comes to shot techniques I would argue there are very few horror filmmakers capable of doing what Perkins does. If you have seen his previous film you know what I am talking about, his ability to frame shots making our eyes wanderer around the screen in an attempt at catching a glimpse of something sinister is unparalleled. Lingering too long on nothing in particular, close ups of character expressions while not showing us the viewer what they are looking at, all help to create an uneasiness and there is no denying that I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is soaked in atmosphere.
Because of the almost nonexistent cast the entirety of the film relies on Ruth Wilson in the starring role, and the whole film will either live or die on how much you enjoyed her performance. Luckily I thought for the most part she did a pretty decent job driving the film forward and genuinely looked terrified at times. It is not the acting, but rather the character of Lily that brings the movie down a couple of pegs, acting very unusual at times making her a bit distant and difficult to relate to. A great haunted house movie must completely put the viewer in the shoes of the protagonist, where as here not once did I myself feel frightened for Lily, instead I just watched from a distance like someone at a Zoo.
As I mentioned above the direction and cinematography are all top notch and completely what I have come to expect from Perkins who I have sort of dubbed for better or worse the ‘Wes Anderson of horror’. His attention to detail on framing each shot is almost Kubrickian, and the way in which he simply lets certain scenes fade out to black is reminiscent of 1970’s horror. The sound design is another standout, hearing every tiny noise from dripping taps to television static all somehow add a level of atmosphere that in any other persons hands would not matter.
No I don’t think I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is a bad movie, it is simply a disappointing follow up to a great directors debut film. There are things to like and appreciate here, the way in which the film is able to have barely any scares but still manage to hold a solid tension throughout is an achievement on its own. Though the first third of the film does a great job, the storyline or lack thereof quickly topple what could have been a masterful haunting film, making it extremely hard to recommend it to anyone other than very die hard horror fans.