I am the boring horror movie that lives on Netflix.
OK, that may be a slightly harsh assessment, but I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House is so slow and quiet, it’s hard to believe the running time is actually under an hour and a half. It’s full of atmosphere, but there is no plot.
It opens with a black screen and the faint ghost-like image of a woman fading in and out while an eerie, affected female voice tells us what happens in houses where people have died. It’s creepy and effective. It’s topped only by the next shot, in which the camera follows a light shining on objects in a house. It moves through the rooms, and we only see the small circle the light catches. When you realize one of the things you see is people sleeping in their beds, the hair on the back of your neck stands up. It’s exceptionally creepy.
We learn the voiceover belongs to Lily (Ruth Wilson), a hospice nurse who is shown into a spooky old house by Mr. Waxcap (Bob Balaban). She will live there and take care of Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), a horror author who is close to catatonic.
Let me pause here to say this is a promising setup. We start to wonder what sort of terrors a horror writer in the throes of dementia could conjure, and how this poor young nurse might deal with it. But that’s not where the movie is headed at all. In fact, it’s about a half-hour before Iris is on screen again for any significant amount of time, and by then we know not to expect much from her.
Vast stretches of the movie are spent slowly, quietly, panning dimly lit rooms of the old house. We’re trained from years of watching predictable horror movies to expect a boogeyman to jump out at us, but one never does. That would be a welcome change, if anything of interest replaced it. The movie starts to feel like a really dismal home improvement show where the host can only film at night and can’t find the light switch.
When I say there is no plot, what I really mean is there is no conflict. The movie drops Lily in a spooky house and then we just watch her move around the rooms and get creeped out. We know nothing else about her. The best haunted house stories are still about the characters, not the house itself. When The Shining opens, for example, we know Jack Torrence is struggling with his own demons and hopes to get them under control while spending the off season in solitude in that big old hotel. If the first scene is Jack creeped out by a dark corridor, our reason for caring about him is missing. With no backstory and no conflict for her to be working through, Lily has no depth, and we never really connect with her.
It doesn’t help that very early on the voiceover pretty much tells us what will happen at the end. Rarely is such a creepy movie so devoid of suspense.
|Title||I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House|
|Starring||Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss|