Way back in twenty-fifteen, a film called February directed by Oz Perkins (Anthony’s son, FYI) showed at Fantastic Fest. That film was – for some reason – renamed. It is now known as, The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Twitter was abuzz with praise for this indie gem at the time, and so my interest was piqued. Almost a year later, the film had a brief run here in Chicago at The Music Box Theater (theatre? it’s not Canada- themed, but maybe). Unfortunately, I missed it but consoled myself with self-assurances that it would be on video before I knew it and I’d catch it then. Well, here we are in the waning months of twenty-sixteen and, nothing. No DVD. No VOD. Not even a release date. Zip. So, when I saw that Perkins wrote and directed another feature film with the (unwieldy) title, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, and that it would be released as a Netflix Original, I was stoked. It hit Netflix on Halloween (adjacent) weekend. What better time to watch a creepy old dark house story?!
Lily is hired to be a live-in care worker for Iris Blum, a horror novel author. Ms Blum is elderly and shows signs of dementia. For example, she calls Lily “Polly” no matter how many times she is corrected. Right from the start, Lily is uneasy about the old dark house. The secluded house creaks and groans while the din of katydids and frogs permeates the night air. (that’s Pulitzer material there!) Lily convinces herself that everything is fine until the noises become harder to explain away. And when she finds out (from Bob Balaban!) that the titular character in Ms Blum’s novel, “The Lady in the Wall”, is named Polly, she endeavors to read the book despite her aversion to scary stories. The more she learns, the more horrifying her situation becomes.
It is no accident that I used the phrase “old dark house” when describing this film. It is an old dark house story in the vein of The Haunting (1963, duh) or Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (yes, it counts. don’t argue with me on this). The nervous narrator shares her inner thoughts and anxieties. A lot of the dread in I Am the Pretty Thing… is built through this storytelling device alone. The dreadful atmosphere inherent in the old dark house trope (i mean that in the nicest sense) is, of course, present in this film. The grand old house takes center stage in this mystery. Dimly lit rooms are seen through the doorways of dark rooms. Dark rooms are feebly illuminated by an iris of dim light. Often, the inferred horror is obscured from the viewers’ eyes in some way. Perkins proves with this that he has the patience and skill to let terror build in the minds of his viewers. And he has enough respect for his audience to allow this to happen without dumbing down his story or his storytelling. He uses the peculiar voice over of Lily right from the start to create a sense of low-level unease and he slowly ratchets that unease up as Lily discovers more-and-more about her new home until the fear of her situation is pervasive. My one complaint (and it’s TINY) is that I’m not a fan of the ghost design. (that’s not a spoiler, she’s on the poster) Other than that, it’s beautiful and creepy and well worth a watch.
The Final Cut: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is a rock-solid entry into the “old dark house” subgenre of films. It is a dreadful slow-build creeper that is sure to please fans of atmospheric horror.