I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House take minimalist filmmaking to new highs with very little, obviously. Or it could be to new lows, depending on your tolerance levels.
Ruth Wilson plays a home nurse who has come to look after a famed author in her dying days. Wilson suspects there may be something haunting the house. She dies. That your lot.
Don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away, she says she dies in her opening dialogue, which is in one way unfortunate because not a hell of a lot else happens. On the flip side, by knowing that Wilson is ultimately doomed it adds a tragic air to the whole proceedings. Also you will be less prone to shouting “is that it!?!?” at the screen.
Writer and director Oz Perkins has constructed a meticulously crafted ghost story. It is about mood rather than story. In fact the plot is so bare bones that it could be told in half the time. However that isn’t what Perkins is trying to do here. He’s creating a piece of atmosphere and dread rather than story beats. We find out about a previous inhabitant called Polly who was killed here, the old author has a connection to Polly and we get snippets of Wilson’s life before she moved into the house. It all makes some kind of sense but there’s not a lot else to it. It’s a shame that the story, such as it is, isn’t a little bit more original. It’s no different to The Turning of the Screw, M R James or any number of Shirley Jackson novels, but with far less detail. There are some interesting ideas about how ghosts are free from time, able to look in on any point of their life or the lives of others, but it is barely touched upon.
Wilson is, as you would expect if you’ve seen any of her other work, terrific. She spends most of the film alone and without dialogue (apart from a somewhat dense voice over) and portrays someone alone and gradually slipping into a world of fear with subtlety and depth. Without her the film would have fallen apart, it is beautiful to look at but with its glacier speed you need someone with Wilson’s presence to keep you watching.
There are other actors here and there in smaller roles but you never get to know much about them. I would have liked to learn more about the old author, played by Paula Prentiss in modern times and Erin Boyes in flashback, but then that would have been besides the point.
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House is a character study of a ghost, something enigmatic and invisible. As such it’s a brave attempt to do something different with the genre. It succeeds in many ways, especially as a mood piece, but don’t expect big scares or even much of a pay off. Just accept it for what it is and enjoy its minimalist charms.