Understated dread.


I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is the second film from Oz Perkins, though it actually released before The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Anyway, here we have Perkins showcasing his unique style that is almost constantly soaked with dread. The film follows Lily (Ruth Wilson) who is a hospice nurse assigned to care for Ms. Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss) who is a famous horror novelist.

The majority of the narrative is Lily slowly becoming aware that there is something wrong with the house. As the mystery slowly unfolds we learn that a story written by Blum many years ago may have not been fiction, and the house is haunted. We do not have a normal haunted house film in this narrative. There are almost no jump scares, hell, there aren’t many scares at all. Instead we have the slow creep of something that we know is eventually going to happen. Lily tells us as she stares into the camera that she will die before her next birthday, and also we learn she will not understand why.

Where the film truly excels is the wonderful and literary writing. The film feels more like a visual novel than a film, and the word choice and poetry inherent in the descriptions is simply wonderful. The journey is much more important than the destination here.

Perkins crams numerous odes to his father’s famous role as Norman Bates through peephole camera angles, music, screams, and angles. Much of the film feels like a love letter to Psycho. However, don’t expect the adrenaline rush of the old masterpiece, this film is a slow burn through and through.

I enjoyed the movie thoroughly, and the slow pace, meditations on death, loneliness, and the nearly relentless sense of dread create a unique experience. However, I can understand why some won’t like the movie. Despite the beauty of language, there isn’t a lot to the story. People going in wanted a horror show are probably going to be bored out of their minds. The film demands a softer viewing—one that is open to reflection more than interaction.

There might also be diminishing returns on narrative investment. A day later and I find myself having trouble determining what to say. I enjoyed it, and I do suggest it for people interested in a more subdued experience. Just don’t go in expecting fireworks. 7.5/10

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