I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Steady creepiness

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“I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House” is a steady exercise in creepiness. After establishing its small, sparse setting, the movie patiently dials up the level of tension bit by bit as its ill-fated heroine is slowly pushed toward its eventual finale, and I like how it maintains well its quiet but creepy atmosphere as adamantly sticking to its glacial narrative pacing. Although I felt impatient from time to time during my viewing and I was also a little disappointed with its anti-climactic ending, the movie works in terms of mood and style at least, and I admire that aspect to some degrees.

After the ominous opening sequence accompanied with the phlegmatic narration by a young live-in nurse named Lily Saylor (Ruth Wilson), we see her beginning her first day in a big 19th New England house belonging to an old writer named Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). Due to her deteriorating health condition, Blum needs someone to take care of her in the house, and the job seems to look easy at first. There is no one in the house besides Blum and Lily, and Blum is usually in her bedroom without much demand.

During her prime period, Blum wrote a good number of horror novels which are still famous with considerable reputation, but Lily is not so eager to read any of these novels mainly because she does not like being scared. In fact, she once tried to read one of Blum’s novels, but even its first few pages turned out to be too much for her.

Unfortunately, it looks like she comes into a place she should have avoided from the beginning. During her first night in the house, a weird incident happens to her, and she is naturally unnerved by that. While she comes to get accustomed to the quiet emptiness inside the house as time goes by, strange things continue to happen, and she cannot help but more agitated as becoming more conscious of what might be inside the house besides her and Blum.

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While her senile mind becomes more deteriorated, Blum keeps confusing Lily with someone named Polly, and Lily later comes to learn that Polly is actually the heroine of one of Blum’s novels. Although she is curious about that novel in question, she hesitates to read it as a certain dark possibility comes to dawn upon her; it is possible that Blum’s novel is based on what a ghost living in her house told her, and that ghost may still be inside the house at present.

As our heroine accordingly comes to feel more nervous day by day, the movie slowly doles out several spooky things to us. Besides that rug in the hallway which is often flipped up for no particular reason, there is also a growing spot of mold on a wall, which may be due to some plumbing problem but seems to be suggesting something terrible behind the wall. As Lily manages to read the first few pages of that novel by Blum, Polly (Lucy Boynton) begins to feel more palpable in Lily’s mind, and we get a chilling scene which may be 1) what really happened in the past or 2) what eventually occurs in Blum’s novel or 3) what is actually imagined by Lily.

Director/writer Osgood Perkins, who is the elder son of Anthony Perkins, did a commendable job of establishing the sense of dread throughout his movie. Even during its bright day scenes, the movie is shrouded in moodiness and uneasiness, and we come to follow its slow but steady progress to the inevitable ending which is already announced to us from the start. While there are a few moments designed to jolt us, but they are effectively thrown to us without interrupting the overall narrative flow of the film, and I particularly like one good moment involved with an old TV.

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Furthermore, the movie is anchored by a solid performance from its engaging lead performer. Ruth Wilson, who drew my attention for the first time via her villainous supporting turn in TV series “Luther” and then gained more attention thanks to another acclaimed TV series “The Affair”, ably carries the movie with her edgy appearance, and she subtly conveys to us her character’s unstable emotional state even when her character does not say or reveal much to us. While Wilson’s performance is indeed the main show of the movie, Paula Prentiss, Bob Balaban, and Lucy Boynton are also fine in their respective supporting roles, and Balaban is colorful as usual as Blum’s estate manager.

While it clearly evokes other psychological/supernatural horror films such as “The Haunting” (1963) and “Repulsion” (1965), “I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House” is distinctive enough to hold my attention, and it surely delivers a frightening moment as eventually arriving at the finale. What follows after that is less interesting in comparison, but, fortunately, that remains to be a minor flaw compared to what has been maintained well during the rest of the film.

Before “I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House”, Perkins made his directorial debut with “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” (2015), which somehow came to be released in US early in this year after “I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House” was released via Netflix in late 2016. I have not watched “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” yet, but I can tell you that I am impressed enough by “I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House”, and I think Perkins is a talented filmmaker to watch during next several years.

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