I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House [TIFF Review]
Osgood Perkins’ debut film February (now called The Blackcoat’s Daughter), chilled me to the bone when I saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, with a few key scenes that stayed with me for months. His latest, boasting the provocative title of I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, lurks in the same shadowy territory and proves that Perkins is no one-hit wonder.
Ostensibly, the film is about Lily (Ruth Wilson), a hospice nurse who’s been hired to take care of Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), an elderly horror author who lives in an old house in Massachusetts. But the film is about a lot of other things, too—ghosts, murder ballads, and the unreliable narrator—and it bears the literary legacy of writers like Shirley Jackson and Charlotte Perkins Gilman (“The Yellow Wallpaper”). Like February, it also bears a slow, creeping dread, one evoked by slow, repetitive tracking shots and suspenseful framing that force the viewer to wait for something terrible to happen. The unearthly score, created by Perkins’ brother Elvis, is as effective, if not more so, than his music in February.
Fans of ghost stories and tales of haunted houses will also be reminded of films like Burnt Offerings, but there are other, perhaps more surprising references. One key scene is frightfully familiar to those who’ve seen The Ring, while the repeated shots of Iris Blum’s house, the stairwell, and the front door are reminiscent of The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh. One can see the faint echo of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s woefully underseen Livide, where the house seems to exist in another dimension.
Yet do not be fooled. For all of his reverence for other films and references to them, Osgood Perkins is a true original, speaking in his own distinctive and fully-formed cinematic language. For example, his use of lighting is one of his most incredible talents. It might sound like a cliché to claim that the light in I Am The Pretty Thing is a character all its own, but that is certainly the case. There’s a clarity to it but, perhaps paradoxically, there is also a blurring of the lines between what’s real and unreal.
Those expecting blood and guts will be disappointed by I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House because it’s not that kind of movie. Those, however, who like to crouch on the edge of their seat, emotions as taut as a violin string, will love this movie. And those who like their films to be enigmatically spooky, who enjoy puzzling over mysteries that are never fully explained, will find a kindred spirit in I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House.
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, September 10.