Friday, March 6, 2020

REVIEW: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (live action movie)

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is horror, a haunted house/ghost story of the creepy and atmospheric variety.

Lily is a live-in nurse hired to care for Iris Blum, a horror writer who has dementia. Iris wrote thirteen novels, her best known of which is The Lady in the Walls. Lily, knowing that she's a bit of a wimp, has never even tried to read one of Iris's books, but nearly a year after coming to Iris's house, she decides to give The Lady in the Walls a try, due to the fact that Iris keeps calling her Polly, the name of the main character in that book. Unfortunately, Polly's story may be too much for her to take.

Like Lily, I am also a horror wimp. I approached this movie with caution and a bit of research. It seemed like something that would be low on jump scares (it was) and low on gore (also true). Its atmosphere was wonderful: creaky old house, unsettling hints that Lily was sharing the house with more than just Iris, and intense focus on Lily and her fragile state of mind.

I had to look this up to make sure it wasn't an adaptation, because it felt like one. Specifically, it felt like a Shirley Jackson novel, with its deep focus on its heroine, disquieting atmosphere, and occasional ambiguity. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the director/writer was influenced by Jackson's works.

I really enjoyed the first part of the movie. On her first day at the house, Lily noticed a sign of some kind of leak. Nearly a year later, it had developed into a mold problem that freaked her out but that she couldn't do much about - Iris's estate manager wasn't interested in spending the money to fix the problem since he figured Iris was going to die soon, and Lily didn't have the money to take care of it on her own. It's tough to say how much of what happened next was due to Lily steadily worrying herself to pieces and how much was real (similar to Eleanor in The Haunting of Hill House), but Iris's house did seem to be haunted.

Unfortunately, while the director/writer knew how to build up the tension and milk the creepiness, things fell apart a bit when it came to the actual ghost and the movie's climax. Polly barely had a story, and yet the movie seemed to spend ages on the flashback to her last moments in the house. And the "big" scare might have had a lot of screaming on Lily's part, but it really wasn't that scary. I liked the idea of the house trapping all of them in one place together, each of their stories overlapping, but the execution could have been better.

This started off lovely and atmospheric and became oddly flat and empty by the end. I don't regret watching it, but I don't know that I'd recommend it.

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