Director – Osgood Perkins
Writer – Osgood Perkins
Starring – Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss, Bob Babalan, Lucy Boynton
Netflix, for a time, had seemingly become the go-to location for Independentpictures of the highest quality. Sadly, that took a dip last year, owing to endless Adam Sandler vanity projects, as well as several other misfires, causing their once lofty standards to plummet. Fortunately, for every Ridiculous Six, there was a Hush; a fantastic counter-point to the drudgery.
I first heard of I am The Pretty Thing That Lives in The House, in The RueMorgue, a monthly magazine that focuses on macabre cinema and cryptozoology. Osgood Perkins, the son of the legendary Anthony Perkins of Pyscho fame, and writer/director of this piece, promised a classic gothic tale that relied on atmosphere over jump scares, and would be a throwback to the more ambient horror pictures of old. He mostly delivers what he promises, yet, regrettably, the film falls somewhat flat, in spite of its fantastic concept.
The film’s destiny in your eyes as either an affecting piece of horror, or an overdrawn waste of time, will depend somewhat on how intrigued you are by the central mystery that shepherds the narrative. As such, I won’t give too much away with a lofty synopsis, as this is the type of film it’s best to go into blind. The basics, however, are as follows:
Retired horror author Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss) suffers from dementia and lives in a remote New England house built in the early 19th century. Ms. Blum’s estate manager Mr. Waxcap (Bob Balaban) hires live-in nurse Lily Saylor (Ruth Wilson) to care for her. Lily begins to experience strange events, and Ms. Blum only calls Lily “Polly,” never using her real name. Mr. Waxcap explains that Polly Parsons is the protagonist of Ms. Blum’s most popular novel, The Lady in the Walls. Eventually, Lilybegins to read it, against her better judgement, and the lines between fiction and reality become blurred.
I Am The Pretty Thing’s – (which I will now abbreviate as IATPT for the rest ofthe review) – entire gimmick, or central concept if you will, is the central mystery that governs the rest of the plot. Unfortunately, for me at least, the mystery isn’t particularly interesting, and, sadly, most cinematic aficionados will almost certainly have it figured out within the hour. It is, in fact, telegraphed in the opening narration, if you pay close enough attention.
It’s not a complete bust, and I’d argue the opening twenty minutes are the best part of the entire movie. There’s a sense of crushing isolation, and the narration is so cryptic it’s hard to make any sense of what’s happening, which, I believe, was exactly what Perkins intended. For a short while, you’re almost tricked into believing you’re going to be in for something akin to a David Lynch film, full of genuine mystery and intrigue, and the emotion in the opening is very poignant. Disappointingly, it’s as though Perkins believed we couldn’t possibly follow the entire film in this manner, and decides to start spoon-feeding us the plot at the half-way mark.
From there, the film falls into very predictable and oft-tread territory. What could have been something special and unique falls into the trappings of cliché and generic formula. It’s incredibly frustrating, because you feel like you’ve been duped by the opening. I went through a myriad of thoughts watching this film, which, typically, I’d consider a good thing. However, these thoughts went something like this:
‘Wow, this opening is very good. I’m intrigued; I have no idea what is happening and I want to know.’
“Alright, there’s supernatural elements and a mystery to be solved, but I’m still intrigued.’
‘Surely it won’t be X = X? That would be pretty predictable.’
‘Oh, X is X. Great.’
A lot of the issues lie in Perkins writing, and it’s clear, at least in this particular piece of work, that his visual flair supersedes his ability to write by some distance. The narration that permeates the entire film is unfortunately entirely necessary for the plot to work, yet is grating to the ears. They also stop being clever once you figure out the mysteries, and then become simply irritating. The writing isn’t terrible, per say, but it is pretty apparent Perkins ambition was greater than his ability. Had this concept been in thehands of a Lynch or a Hitchcock, we could have had something truly outstanding. In the hands of Perkins, we get an average horror flick.
The blame can’t be laid entirely on his shoulders, though, and his actors do very little to help him out. Wilson takes the lead, as Boynton plays the ghostly Parsons, and neither give a particularly great account of themselves. Wilson, for the most part, is fine, playing her part pretty much as she needs to without ever steering into genuinely impressive territory. Boynton as Polly, however, is close to awful. Now, I can’t give too much away without spoiling the narrative, which I promised not to do.
So what I will say is this: both Boynton and Wilson give narration during this Feature, and it’s left ambiguous as to who is talking at what time until the end.Unfortunately, there’s no chance of you playing a guessing game, as both are equally lifeless and monotonous, and, even with the benefit of knowing the twist, I probably couldn’t tell you who is narrating when. To reiterate – none of the actors in this film are poor, they just exist, do reasonable jobs, and then it ends. Nobody captivates or enthralls you.
The film also, sadly, fails as a horror film, which should be, for obvious reasons, the primary concern. The atmosphere, while claustrophobic and tense, never really makes you feel uncomfortable in that primal way true horror classics can. There’s no moment of real heightened tension, and, for a film marketed as a gothic horror, it almost feels as though the horror elements were added as an afterthought. It’s as though Perkins wanted to write a deep mystery piece, but also wanted to cash in on the horror market. What we’re leftwith is a confused picture without any real identity, which is incredible whenone considers just how unique the concept is.
It’s certainly not terrible, though. Particular credit has to be given to the cinematography, which is, in a word, beautiful. Every shot is immaculately composed, thought-out and, as a series of still images, it looks absolutely incredible. Annoyingly, though, a lot of these incredible shots simply do not need to exist, and seem to act as filler so the film could make the run time. Perhaps if Perkins had spent less time on his shots and more on his script, these obvious fillers would be unnecessary. The score is also very strong if generic, relying on the tried and tested horror tropes of screeching violins.
Now, this review may have seemed somewhat negative, and, I guess it is. In light of this, I want to make it absolutely clear that, just because this particular effort was a mis-step, it does not mean directors and writers should stop attempting ambitious projects such as these. This was a great idea that, if pulled off correctly, could have been a timeless throwback to the great Gothic horrors of old. Sadly, in this instance, the film falls flat, but there is enough here to suggest Perkins is an ambitious talent with a future ahead of him, and there are certainly worse things you could watch on Netflix. Just don’t expect to be terrified, as the only true horror here is watching wasted potential.
Final Rating – 3.7