Laborious to the point of being inert, Osgood Perkins’ I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is a film so obsessed with mood and tone that it forgets everything else. This 2016 picture is an exasperating watch on many levels, with Perkins’ screenplay failing to generate anything resonant or consequential.
To call I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House a slow-burn Gothic horror is an insult to slow-burn Gothic horror. Cinematographer Julie Kirkwood sets up shot after shot after shot of the protagonist wandering in and out of rooms. The shots are predictable in their listlessness and there’s no connective tissue or trepidation.
Ruth Wilson is Lily, a hospice nurse tasked to take care of horror author Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss) in her waning days. Lily has been hired by Mr. Waxcap (Bob Balaban), Blum’s estate manager. Lily spends most of her time meandering around Blum’s house.
Things take a turn when mould starts to grow on the wall and Lily takes note. She’s also weirded out when Blum calls her “Polly” and asks Mr. Waxcap what the deal is. Apparently, Polly (Lucy Boynton) is a character in one of Blum’s books. This leads to some apparitions and some strange occurrences, kind of.
Wilson spends the majority of the movie looking at things. Sometimes she names flowers, sometimes she spends ages reaching into a box to look at a letter, sometimes she stares at the static on the television. She talks on the phone to a friend at one point, which represents virtually the only sign of life for the 28-year-old.
Through voiceover, we learn that Lily apparently has an exceptionally poetic way of thinking. She presents herself as a “pretty young thing” and talks about how she’s only read nine pages of Blum’s books and knows enough to know she doesn’t like them. She’s a high-minded sort, but the characterization doesn’t last or matter.
In fact, Lily is so godawful slow at doing everything that one starts to wonder who actually requires the care of a hospice nurse. She doesn’t spend much time interacting with Blum, with the exception of a scene in which she combs the poor old bat’s hair into some kind of Doc Brown number. Another time, she stares at Blum for an eternity because she’s been called the wrong name.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is obsessed with glacial tone “stuff” to the point that the actual appearance of an apparition barely registers and a sequence in which Lily grows weird arms while washing blackberries is just plain bonkers.
It’s hard to say more. There’s no relationship to speak of between Lily and Blum or Lily and Mr. Waxcap or even Lily and the flashback-explored Polly. The latter character spends most of her time in side profile or wandering around blindfolded, right up until a moment of rare impact. And Blum, poor devil, is confined to an afterthought despite the phantom of her novels.
Those seeking something thrilling or human won’t find much to enjoy about I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, but those who find pleasure in gawking at walls or floors or blackberries might lap up the painstaking stunt that is this horror movie. It is literally as entertaining as watching mould grow.