I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House (Netflix, 2016)

As steaming services play a bigger and bigger role in the film and television industry, a lot of attention is going to their original content–but mainly streaming television shows. What about streaming movies? What hidden gems or washed up flops are hiding under the “___ Original” tab? Lets see what is awash in the stream.

 

I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House (2016)

 

Netflix

Director: Osgood Perkins

Writer: Osgood Perkins

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I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House is a short story stretched to feature length. The plot is threadbare, and mostly involves walking down a dark hallway alone, or staring into dark doorways. There are early hints of something interesting, but this potential is drowned in the sea of nothing that is the story.

After 5 minutes of opening voiceover, Lily (Ruth Wilson) arrives at the home of retired horror novelist Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). Iris, author of 13 (spoooky!) horror novels, has dementia, and Lily is her new live-in nurse. Lily is an extremely frightful young woman, too scared to read more than a handful of pages of any horror novel. After some voiceover speculation about the nature of haunted houses–do they belong to the living owners? Or the dead that haunt them still?–Lily reveals that she has just celebrated her 28th birthday, but will not live to see her 29th.

About the opening voiceover: Talk of ghosts claiming ownership may sound creepy at first, but the sheer volume of voiceover, most of it delivered in a very serious whisper, leads to diminishing returns. There is far more voiceover than there is actual dialogue, and everybody gets a turn at voiceover. It’s almost like the Terrence Malik version of a haunted house movie, with the same amount of plot, but less engaging.

The premise, two women in a haunted house, would promise a two-hander, but it plays out more like a one-woman show. Iris and Lily share two scenes together, one of which is Lily introducing herself.  Iris calls Lily “Polly,” the heroine of one of Iris’s novels, a plot point that would probably hit harder if the two women spoke more than twice. The concept appears to be that the memory of Polly hangs over the house, crowding out the living attempting to make it their home. However, Iris plays such a small role in the story that her Polly fixation doesn’t make a big impression.

After learning that Polly is a character, not a person, Lily sets out to swallow her fear and read Polly’s store, “The Lady in the Walls.” Iris’s accountant Mr. Waxcap (Bob Balaban) says the story is infamous for ending before a “presumably gruesome” ending, which sounds like the promise of a mystery of Polly’s demise. The mystery proves easily solved–Lily swallows her fear and reads the novel. The prologue, dramatized via vocieover, is an explanation that the novel is a true story, told by the ghost of Polly Parsons (Lucy Boynton). What we see of the ending isn’t as premature as Waxcap implied–Polly wanders around her new house with a blindfold on, cuts her finger, takes the blindfold off, and finds her new husband (Brad Milne) staring at her murderously. Later flashbacks confirm that yes, Polly was murdered by her husband. There is never any explanation why, or what events led up to her murder.

Instead of plot, the film goes for atmosphere. Creepy dark hallways. A recurring image of pitch-black doorways, teeming with portent of what might come through. Sometimes, the flicker of Polly’s ghostly visage can be seen in the darkness. However, the film also confuses atmosphere with characters moving really slowly. The film has a total runtime of 1 hour 29 minutes, which includes 5 minutes of end credits–sequences of Lily very slowly reaching for things, or very slowly walking downstairs, feel more like padding than atmosphere.

One of the Iris-Lily scenes has Iris deliver a monologue about how being “pretty” is a curse, with beauty inevitably fading and leaving you diminished. This isn’t really relevant to either Iris or Lily–there isn’t any sort of romantic plotline, and the only other character Lily interacts with is Mr. Waxcap, in a single scene–and how it applies to Polly isn’t entirely clear. Polly is attractive, and was killed by her husband, apparently on their honeymoon, but nothing about her relationship or why she was killed is ever revealed, so tying it to her being “pretty” is just throwing out a theme and moving on. There’s a saying about writing, “show, don’t tell,” but this barely qualifies as telling.

After establishing that Lily will be dead within a year of her arrival, the film spends time on her first night in the house, then silently skips ahead to “almost a year” later. This doesn’t particularly add any tension–it’s not like it was ever specified if she would days, weeks, or months short of her 29th birthday–and the implication that for almost a year, the haunting was limited to odd noises and shadows does not inspire dread. The biggest thing is that mold has started to form on a wall. It is not a particularly creepy mold. A flashback reveals that the mold is in the shape of Polly’s blood splatter from her murder, a detail that is creepy, but falls short of a major revelation. Yet this is the big twist that the story revolves around, as if this explains something. It is the barest premise of a concept, a starting point, but is also an endpoint. This is the extent of the haunting. Around the climax, a plot threatens to start, then bafflingly doesn’t. Where a confrontation could, perhaps even should, occur, characters just stare at each other sadly.

Writer and director Osgood Perkins, son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins, appears to be going for something like House of The Devil or even the original Halloween, where a sense of mounting dread carries a light plot, but never establishes the stakes of those films. There is never a sense of Polly wanting anything in particular, or that Iris and Lily are in any real danger from living in a haunted house. When Lily does meet her end, it seems more accidental than anything. No matter how darkened a doorway is, there still needs to be something scary to lurk in the darkness.

 

Hidden Gem or Washed Up Flop? Washed Up Flop