Hello, everyone! Today I finally get around to writing a review about I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, a movie that is more or less a painting stretched out into 87 tedious minutes. With a title that unique and descriptive, I was expecting something a bit more interesting than the minimalist set of tableaux that director Oz Perkins believes makes a movie. Yes, Oz Perkins, as in the son of Anthony Perkins, the iconic actor who played Norman Bates in Psycho. The only thing that IATPTTLITH (even the acronym is too long!) has in common with the genius of Psycho is that they are both technically horror movies. I guess in this day and age with an orange buffoon as president-elect, anything can be anything.
Plot: Meek live-in nurse Lily is hired to care for Iris Blum, a bedridden author famous for her gruesome gothic murder mysteries. Once in the house, Lily becomes interested in the true story behind Iris’ novels, and once she starts digging, she can’t stop. Unfortunately, Lily is a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat, and as the ghostly presence in Iris’ book starts to take over the house, Lily is powerless to stop it.
Let’s start with the good parts of this movie. Oz Perkins has a wonderful grasp on the aesthetics. The film is beautifully made for what I imagine was quite a small budget. The interiors utilizes one of my favorite color palettes, the pale, pristine pastels that you find in nice salons or department stores in old movies. It supports many of the quiet scenes, such as when Lily washes fruit in the kitchen, or when the camera sweeps down the stairs and through the hallways. It’s not a distracting aesthetic, in fact it never changes, which encapsulates the film’s message of a history untouched far better than the dialogue does.
Another aspect I like in the film is the how Perkins layers several connected stories into one plot. On the surface we have the story of Lily caring for Iris and discovering the secrets of the house, but below that we have her reading Iris’ book and absorbing it into her real life, and farther below that, the story of Polly, the poor murdered bride who may or may not be more than just one of Iris’ characters. Perkins uses these overlapping plots to create visual layers of time in his movie. We are never in just the present, but also the past, and its fictional counterpart. With a more developed plot, this sophisticated layering could have really worked.
But that’s the problem. Lack of any substantial plot is the movie’s fatal flaw. There’s something to be said for a movie that can draw out a story into infinity and still keep the audience interested, but at least for me, IATPTTLITH wasn’t capable of that feat. The story itself is slow, but so is everything else. Lily walks too slowly, and she opens boxes (with anti-climactic plot twists inside of them) far, far too slowly, and even the camera moves slowly. The story manages to skip an entire year of Lily’s life, but spends a three or four minute scene with her talking on the phone with a sister who has no relevance to the plot. Sometimes the slowness is effective, such as when Perkins zooms menacingly on the face of Polly in the darkness, but it’s mostly a time waster.
Several of the reviewers who appreciated the movie remarked on how the slowness contributed to the film’s overpowering sense of dread and its gothic qualities. I don’t believe that either of those are true. Slowness does not equal dread on its own. There has to be an already existing atmosphere of dread for the slowness to capitalize on, but this movie had none. Essentially, there was nothing to be frightened of. Creepy house? Not really, it looks like any old house. The only creepy thing is that Lily is always alone. Creepy old woman? Nope, she’s just old. Creepy ghost? Not in the least. She exists. That’s about it. Movies with scary atmospheres only have scary atmospheres because at their heart, there is something to be scared of.
As for the film’s gothic nature, I think that’s an overeager reading. Some of the requirements are satisfied, like the character’s isolation, her damsel-in-distressedness (which I mean, come on, haven’t we outgrown that?), the old house, but the rest falls short. The big mystery is too obvious, the hauntings are almost non-existent, and we didn’t even get a satisfying romance! When the reviewers go as far to compare it to novels like the House on Haunted Hill, I think they’re jumping the gun. The Shirley Jackson novel used a haunted house setting to take a deep look at a fascinating, troubled woman. This Oz Perkins film uses a regular old house to take a superficially “deep” look at a woman whose only character development is provided through one phone call and some very teen-poetry voice overs.
This trailer is a better movie than the actual movie. For one, it has the lovely ticking clock noise set behind the soundtrack, which is one of my favorite ways of using sound to show suspense. If that ticking clock sound had been in the actual movie, I would have been more scared. The trailer also cuts the scenes short and juxtaposes them to make it look like the movie is full of tension, when it’s really so long and drawn out that any tension, like a spot of mold on the wall, becomes exciting. No really, there is a whole scene devoted to mold on a wall. But it symbolizes the decay of the protagonist’s soul— no I don’t care! It’s been done before! We’re over it now!
Final Consensus: Oz Perkin’s film I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House needs no more than its title to describe the movie. Yes, there is a pretty thing that lives in the house. No, that pretty thing isn’t interesting in any way. If you have have 87 minutes to kill, it’s not a horrid way to spend the time, but otherwise the film’s not worth it. Here’s hoping that Perkin’s other film, February, turns out to be more than just pretty.