There’s no shortage to the amount of good–and bad–horror movies on Netflix, so I’ll be sharing my thoughts as I purview the supply. Hopefully these serve as guideposts for those who want to avoid wandering the virtual isles of the digital video store.
Fittingly, my first pick, I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, is a Netflix original. Written and directed by Osgood Perkins, this film was released just before Halloween last year. It focuses on Lily Saylor (Ruth Wilson), a live-in nurse for the horror writer Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), who lives in a remote area while suffering from dementia.
The opening is strong, with a mysterious voice over by Wilson offering strange insight to the nature of a house’s history–namely, that if others have died there, no one can buy it, only borrow it from the ghosts. This is presented with a cold, objective removal, simultaneously dread-inducing and artistically/intellectually engaging. It’s clear from the beginning that this draws on classic Gothic literature, especially The Haunting of Hill House, with its equally detached, lonesome narrative opening.
Labors of love shine like diamonds among the mass-produced Hollywood horror that saturates our virtual libraries, and it’s clear a lot of passion went into this. The acting is compelling throughout, with Wilson breathing life into her role in an array of subtle mannerisms and expressive reactions. She doesn’t play a Victorian heroine so much as that she truly is one, stepped right out of the pages of one of the Jane Austen novels that so clearly influenced the plot.
To this end, the wardrobe and setting are great, feeling antiquated despite the modern setting. Characters gasp, and you can almost feel dust tickling your throat by proxy. During tense moments, the viewer isn’t left thinking, “Grab your phone!” because these characters have left the present behind. Couple this with a tense atmosphere as a result of Saylor hallucinating as time goes on, and there’s a foundation for a very powerful movie.
There’s a problem with ‘idea’ films though, and that’s the fact that, once you present the idea, you don’t necessarily have much else to work with. While the acting is on-point, the costumes effective, and the setting well-constructed, there simply isn’t enough story to carry this movie through to the end. This is a pretty big issue considering the fact that it’s just story–all the drama and horror comes from the circular timeline and recurring events.
Unfortunately, there’s a suggestion that Osgood recognized this, because in a movie that has almost no jump scares, leaving the fear in creaky boards and shadows passing through distant reflections, the climactic moment is marked by one of the most shrill and, frankly, obnoxious instrumental burst in film history. There’s no harm in making characters speak softly throughout an artistic piece, but blowing out the viewers’ ear drums in the last five minutes isn’t scary. It’s frustrating, it’s a cop-out, and, frankly, it’s rude.
While there’s compelling acting and an excellent insertion of dated environments into the modern timeline, this winds up feeling like a graduate student’s thesis. Rather than artistic horror, the viewers gets a splash of mystery in the beginning that fails to carry the movie through the middle, let alone the end.
I give this movie a 7/10, with a ‘Background Film’ suggestion–meaning, it’s perfect to put on if you’re, say, doing the dishes, or playing a video game with little to no narrative, but it’s not something you’ll be enthralled by if you watch it straight-on. I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House is indeed a pretty thing, but won’t hold your gaze for long.