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Lily (Ruth Wilson) begins by telling us she is twenty-eight years old. Looking directly into the camera, she smiles and states she will never be twenty-nine. It’s a chilling start for this young women in white nursing attire and a dreary mustard yellow cardigan, her hair pulled tightly behind her head. She is entering for the first time, the old country home of Iris Bloom (Paula Prentiss), an elderly woman and former dime-store horror author who is mostly bed-ridden. She is a haggard, ghastly looking creature who barely moves and rarely speaks, calling Lily “Polly” after a character Lilly comes to learn is a girl in one of the old woman’s books. It will mean much more later.
The house is suitably dark and creepy. On her first night, she already suspects something isn’t right, with strange sounds and thudding along the creaking floorboards. All the while, she is on the phone, an old chord model that is twisted and gnarled from use. When it is suddenly is knocked from her hand, she jumps with fright but feels it was only the tension of the wire and nothing else. We know better. Meanwhile, the home is a cavernous tomb of ebony shadows like an abyss waiting for Lily to fall. Time passes, nearly a year and Lily remains sequestered inside, awaiting the passing of Iris, but more importantly, succumbing to the wiles of a presence within.
Written and directed by Oz Perkins, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House is not at all what it feels like it should be. After years upon years of generic, slickly-produced horror films that have trained us to be on edge, anticipating jump scares that have come to define the genre, Perkins (son of legendary Anthony Perkins, who makes an appearance via an old television show) refuses to play fair. In an impressive display of mood and atmosphere, the film grips from the opening frames, a patient, slow reveal and a chilling montage that will absolutely terrify those with keen eyes.
The movie is not so much narrated as read, the plot taking on a cyclical nature that becomes more clear as the details emerge. Lily’s overlaying account never speaks with any sense of optimism. She speaks to us with a detached grimness, a kind of acknowledgment that her fate is in fact woven into the very fiber of the house she resides. It is a strikingly effect layer of dread that becomes more so as the film draws to a disturbing close.
What do we want from horror? Popular franchises like The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity are quickly becoming stagnant examples of formulas that know the right buttons to push but do nothing to innovate. Yes, the jump scare factory that is blockbuster horror will continue to mass produce at its usual excessive rate, but once in a great while, one comes along that challenges. It understands the conventions of the genre and then creates its own. This is one such film. Perkins isn’t interested in coloring inside the lines and instead draws upon his canvas with a bold new line and while some may balk at the pace and lack of an expected jump scare quotient, real terror comes in unexpected ways, right when it should.
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House is a stylistic genre-bending work of art that is 90 minutes of edge of your seat tension. As the camera lingers in long, tight, static shots on Wilson’s face, we watch the corners, the backgrounds, the shadows, and the blackness beyond, our eyes trained for the horrors we know are waiting to leap upon us. That almost ever time, they don’t, makes them all the more horrifying. And when they do, like something so rare in horror movies, it feels earned, and tremendously impactful. This is one scary movie.
Director: Oz Perkins
Writer: Oz Perkins
Stars: Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss, Lucy Boynton