Within the first 5 minutes of I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE you get a super dark 3-minute voice over, and 6 minutes of gothic over-wrought nonsense. Those are the highlights. That is the signal to either turn it off and find something better to do, or settle in to feel your butt get numb.
The black screen voice-over is a sly wink to the audience from writer/director/auteurs who believe the genre is beneath them but kinda dig ghost stories that aren’t really ghost stories because aren’t we all just ghosts in our own prefabricated haunted houses?
I hate Art! House! Horror!.
Lily (Ruth Wilson) tends to ailing horror writer, Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), she of the famously popular novel and not as great movie, The Lady in the Walls. Lily is easily one of the most unlikable characters ever, which is unfortunate because this movie only has a cast of 5 – and two of them might be imaginary. The estate executor, Mr. Waxcap (Bob Balaban) tells her it won’t be much longer now, as Ms. Blum is fading fast, so Lily just has to make with the cleaning and tending and deathwatch. Eleven months later, Iris is still dying and Lily is going stir crazy.
See, we’re supposed to believe that nothing significant happens for almost a year. Lily does nothing, Iris does not significantly decline, but the house continues its slow but inevitable march towards earning its Condemned Sign. The only interesting things are happening to the house, with mold issues, and colonies of critters roaming the walls. The house cannot be repaired because the funds are extremely limited until Ms. Blum actually dies, and if Lily wants to continue to be paid she’ll have to deal. The structure is rotting from the inside out – like the declining Ms. Blum, like Lily’s fading beauty.
If we were classically educated and super refined, we would scream ALLEGORY! and pretentiously sip our expensive sherry, smirking at the folly of modern cinema.
Because this is Art! House! Horror! everything is eventually revealed, much like extracting a particularly stubborn molar. Lily hears an occasional voice on the wind “This is how you rot” and ethereal figures move in and out of frame behind characters, but nothing actually happens. If there is a Mystery it’s supposed to be who is Polly, the name Ms. Blum has given to Lily, and is she in the walls, and WHY?
We will find out, but by then our hopes and dreams and interest will have withered away, like Ms. Blum in the upstairs room.
This is not a compelling thriller or even a tepid horror. It is Literature slumming as Genre, it feels very condescending, and frankly it’s poorly done. Like many Art! House! Horror! films, it fancies the idea of being a naughty horror movie, but comes off the pedantic professor mansplaining a school-girl fetish to an escort. Nothing happens in like so many horror movies that really aren’t, but writer/director Oz Perkins felt the tag was super provocative. His earlier writing credit, The Girl in the Photographs (2015) is a better effort, but stinks of the same disdain for the genre.
Provocative is over-done. Give us story and scares and horror. Slow burn thrillers and horror are fine – but there needs to be a fire and this film provides even the barest spark.
I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE is a Netflix Original film, and is unrated. There are off-screen scenes of death by hammer, super mild body horror, and 87 of the longest minutes of your life.