A ghost story needn’t be frightening, but it ought to provoke a certain timorous unease in the audience. Jump scares both physical and auditory have dominated ghost stories for the last twenty years making the genre more than a bit ridiculous and empty of meaning. In the crowded marketplace of cheap possession movies filled with cliche bad decisions and screeching soundtracks, there is little room for a slow burn spectral meditation with literary aspirations such a film should have a place in the horror pantheon.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives In The House
The best descriptor for I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives In The House that is generous enough to not be negative is that it’s ‘atmospheric.’ What does this mean? It means the film’s success is entirely pinned to mood and tone. This is a precarious place for any film to sit, because it relies on a shared subjectivity between the writer/director and audience. Patience and trust is required of viewers; the filmmaker has a responsibility has an immediate debt to repay.
As a meditation on death, Pretty Thing, could have worked. As an intertwining three part story set in three different time periods focused in one house, Pretty Thing could have been structurally innovative. As a depiction of women’s roles, Pretty Thing could have been biting critique. As an exploration of isolation, Pretty Thing could have been chilling. Unfortunately, it doesn’t payoff.
Instead, the film wastes the talents of its cast. Ruth Wilson’s hospice nurse Lily’s timidness is stretched out so long it eventually provokes only contempt. Bob Balaban’s dismissive Mr. Waxcap could have been a cruel and chilling gaslighting foil but instead becomes a mere prop. Paula Prentiss as the near death author Iris Blum could have been a wonderful portal between characters but instead sits dumbly criminally under-used. And Lucy Boyton as Polly, the prime-mover ghost of the story, arrives and is immediately neutered into inconsequence.
It’s not that Pretty Thing delivers an unconventional ghost story within a ghost story. It’s that it seems intent on writing itself into a corner and then simply quitting. Vignettes, still scenes, and voice-over does not make for a quality film. In fact, it feels boorishly pretentious. We deserve more literary and atmospheric horror, but I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House is not it and seems to suggest we don’t know how to make that kind of film.
A film that promises much and fails to fulfill it.