“A house with a death in it can never be bought or sold, it can only be borrowed from its ghosts.”
I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE is a Netflix original from writer/director Oz Perkins, the eldest son of horror icon Anthony Perkins. A bare-bones ghost story through and through, the film follows Lily Saylor (Ruth Wilson), a live-in nurse who moves into the remote New England house of Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), a retired horror author suffering from dementia, and suspects that it may be haunted.
In our modern jump-scare era of ghost movies, I tend to be a sucker for any haunted house film that removes itself from those expectations and tells its story in vintage, story-driven fashion, In the case of I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE, Perkins masterfully imitates the horror of generations past, bringing forth a chilling experience that manages a hard-earned freshness, even if it never quite reaches its terrifying potential.
Reminiscent of films such as 1980’s THE CHANGELING, I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE takes its time setting up scares, careful not to take the path of least resistance to any such occasion. Rather than providing the viewer with one jump-scare after another (I counted one such scare throughout the entire movie) or jarring us with loud cues of music, Perkins wrings tension from a poetic script, the authentic performances of his leads, most notably Ruth Wilson, the ominous, dreadful atmosphere that he manages to establish, and the brilliant staging of his own shots within the house. It’s made abundantly clear in the first few frames of this film that Perkins admires the classics and completely understands how to capture that aesthetic for himself.
In addition to the brilliant work of Perkins and Wilson, I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE features a genuinely haunting musical score from Elvis Perkins (brother of Oz). The music is never sudden or used to force a reaction from a viewer (a HUGE positive of the film), but it effectively slides into your subconscious, rendering you helpless to the rising hairs on the back of your neck. The cinematography, too, is wonderfully executed by Julie Kirkwood, helping to further establish the film’s poetic, dreary tone.
For all the film does right, however, it is not perfect. Though only 88-minutes in length, I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE tends to drag with its sluggish pace at times. While that didn’t detract from my liking of the film, it’s sure to be a turn-off for anyone who prefers their horror a little more brisk. The unconventional ending, as well, may underwhelm some.
A ghost story is only as scary as the voice that’s telling it, and Oz Perkins has crafted a story worth repeating. If you’re looking for flashy, brisk, eventful horror, this might not be your thing. However, if you love a good old fashioned haunted house film, I highly recommend checking out I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE on Netflix for yourself.