Osgood Perkins is more than the son of Anthony Perkins. Thanks to the film The Blackcoat’s Daughter, he’s announced himself as a force in modern horror. With I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, he’s invited comparisons to Lynch, Kubrick and Polanski, as well as a review that says that this film is “the most atmospherically faithful adaptation ever of a Shirley Jackson book that never existed.”
Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss!) was once a horror writer, but now she is suffering from dementia, waited on by her live-in nurse Lily Saylor (Rith Wilson from Showtime’s The Affair). They are both alone in a house that was built by a man for his true love, but they both disappeared the day they were married.
Lily’s only contact with the outside world is the manager of Iris’s estate, Mr. Waxcap (Bob Balaban, who you’d know from Christopher Guest comedies or Close Encounters of the Third Kind). As she spends her days and nights caring for her patient, the supernatural slowly takes over her life. Telephones are yanked from her hands, mold slowly grows on the walls and she has visions of that very same black mold infiltrating her body.
Iris will only refer to Lily as Polly, the name of the character in the most famous of her thirteen books, The Lady in the Walls. Lily decides to overcome her averison to Iris’s books and read that tome, learning that Iris may have known Polly, but every vision we see of the girl tells us that she was a bride in 1813 and walked the house blindfolded while her husband watched. That’s when Lily finds the rough draft for the book, in which she learns that Polly was murdered by her husband and stuffed into the very same wall where the mold grows.
Lily tries to discuss the book with her patient, who claims that Polly has betrayed and left her before telling her that even the most pretty things rot. While Lily tries to watch television, Polly’s ghost (Lucy Boynton, The Blackcoat’s Daughter) visits Iris before making sounds throughout the home. Lily investigates, only to see the boards of the walls have been removed. It’s then that she finally sees the ghost face-to-face and dies of a heart attack.
Years later, when a new family moves in, there’s a new pretty thing inside the walls. Now, Lily roams the house.
I’d compare this film to 2017’s A Ghost Story, but with much better pacing. It truly depends on the strength of its actors, who rise to the occasion, to keep the story moving. And the cinematography by Julie Kirkwood (who also worked with Perkins on The Blackcoat’s Daughter) is exquisite, a match of perfect softness and dark doom. I’d definitely recommend this movie to anyone that has the patience to savor its elegiac and languid pace.
You can watch this film exclusively on Netflix.