I Am the Pretty Long Title of a New Ghost Story on Netflix

“Three days ago, I turned 28 years old. I will never be 29.”

So concludes the haunting narration that opens I Am the Pretty thing That Lives in the House, a Shirley Jackson-esque ghost story from writer-director Osgood Perkins (son of Psycho star Anthony, who makes a fleeting appearance on a television screen); a narration that began, a full five minutes earlier, in equally chilling fashion: “A house with a death in it can never again be bought and sold by the living. It can only be borrowed from the ghosts that have stayed behind.”

The voice belongs to care worker Lily Sader (Ruth Wilson), who moves into a house in Bradford, Massachussetts, to look after famous horror writer Iris Blum (The Stepford Wives’ Priscilla Prentiss), lately incapable of looking after herself. Lily is somewhat unnerved by some strange happenings in the house – a presence yanking the telephone cord from her hand, strange sounds coming from the walls – but, although she is the type to spook easily, continues to look after Iris, who insists on calling her ‘Polly’. Asked about this, Iris’s lawyer (Bob Balaban) says that, although Iris doesn’t think that Iris knows anyone by that name, ‘Polly Parsons’ was the ill-fated heroine of Ms. Blum’s horror novel, The Lady in the Walls. Intrigued, Lily begins to read…

If you haven’t been following Showtime’s The Affair (for which she won a Golden Globe), and missed the BBC’s adaptation of Jane Eyre a decade ago, you may know English-born actress Ruth Wilson only as Alice Morgan from Luther, or perhaps The Lone Ranger. You likely know that she can carry a scene, but with I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, Wilson proves that she is capable of carrying a whole film. Wilson’s performance is excellent – all the best female performances are in horror films these days – but your appreciation of the film itself will depend largely on your tolerance for the drip-drip-drip style in which it is made. Many shots are either stills or zooms so slow they might give Kubrick pause; Wilson’s narration is soporific, while she and the other actors (Bob Balaban, Lucy Boynton and Erin Boyes co-star) move as though trapped in amber (which, in a way, some of them are). Audiences able to accept the glacial pace, which makes The Neon Demon look like Crank, will be rewarded with a creepy, turn-of-the-screw ghost story that isn’t so much a slow burn as a creeping smoulder, and although it never really catches fire, that’s probably due to the chilly atmosphere.


David Hughes

I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE is on Netflix now, along with Osgood Perkins’ earlier film, FEBRUARY (aka THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER), starring Emma Roberts.