The film, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House is not your typical horror movie. In fact, it is an intellectual, supernatural, psychological film that does not rely on the usual horror tropes to draw you in. Instead it plays with your emotions and imagination using time, space, and motion to keep you in suspense.
The dark and eerie opening sequence sets the tone and mood of the film, aided by the literary elements of narration and story, with accompanying music and the 1820’s farmhouse setting. Accomplished actress, Ruth Wilson employs a gothic soliloquy to tell her story.
The film is the brainchild of writer/director Osgood Perkins who is the son of late actor
Anthony Perkins of Psycho fame. Perkins cleverly plays with time, space, and motion by moving the viewer backward and forward through this haunting story.
As the film begins, we see a woman wearing a period piece walking or almost floating backwards against a black background, her face is blurred almost as if she is traveling through time, her feet are facing the wrong way. Her head turns and one is not sure who it is that we are looking at- as the narrator speaks.
“I have heard myself say that a house with a death in it can never again be bought or sold by the living. It can only be borrowed from the ghosts that have stayed behind. To go back and forth, letting out and gathering back in again. Worrying over the floors in confused circles. Tending to their deaths like patchy, withered gardens.”
“They have stayed to look back for a glimpse of the very last moments of their lives. But the memories of their own deaths are faces on the wrong side of wet windows, smeared by rain. Impossible to properly see. There is nothing that chains them to the places where their bodies have fallen. They are free to go, but still they confine themselves, held in place by their looking. For those who have stayed, their prison is their never seeing. And left all alone, this is how they rot.”
If this doesn’t draw you in perhaps what she says further will… “From where I am now, I can be sure of only very few things. The pretty thing you are looking at is me. Of this I am sure. My name is Lily Saylor. I am a hospice nurse. Three days ago, I turned 28 years old. I will never be 29 years old.”
That’s it… I was hooked and I think you will be too.
Ruth Wilson plays the main character, Lily Saylor. Lily is a sweet soft-spoken young woman who appears to have been recently jilted by her fiancé, Scott, and has moved to a remote home in Braintree, Massachusetts to provide 24-hour hospice nursing care for a retired horror writer, Iris Blum.
Iris suffers from dementia and sits almost in a trance like state. She barely speaks or interacts with her caregiver, Lily; but when she does, she calls her Polly or says things like “Even the prettiest things eventually rot.” The mature Ms. Blum is played stoically by Paula Prentis and the young Iris Blum is portrayed in the film by Erin Boynes.
Having no family to care for her in her present condition, her estate manager Mr. Waxcap has hired a nurse to care for her until her death. Bob Balaban portrays Mr. Waxcap. After the haunting start of the movie we see Lily who is seemingly alone in the house with Ms.
Blum her patient. Her very first night in the house, the skittish Lily hears thumps, creeks and experiences the movement of things.
The movie fast forwards 11 months later. Lily is living a quiet life in a strange home. There are growing concerns. At one point the lonely nurse chats with the flowers and they murmur back. When Mr. Waxcap returns to check up on things Lily shares her concerns over Ms. Blum referring to her as Polly and the ugly mold growing on the walls. Mr. Waxcap explains that Polly was a character in Ms. Blum’s most popular novel, The Lady In the Walls.
Obviously, Lily who is naturally curious ventures into Ms. Blum’s office, and finds a collection of her books meticulously lined up on the shelves. Lily, who refers to herself as a scaredy cat, decides to read, The Lady in the Walls (but only 9 pages of it), and that is when we begin to understand the connection between the house, Polly, Iris and Lily.
Polly is a young woman who has died in the house. She is portrayed by Lucy Boynton. In
flashback scenes we also see her husband, played by Brad Milne and come to learn how she met her death.
This film has received mixed reviews but I loved it. It is film that has kept me thinking of it again and again because there is so much meaning packed into the brilliant opening sequence, which makes total sense by the end of the movie.
In the beginning and throughout the movie a movie, a haunting love song written by Irving Berlin and recorded by Anthony Perkins (that’s right Osgood’s famous father). The lyrics are amazingly apropos! Watch the movie and you’ll know what I mean. You can also hear Anthony Perkin’s suave rendition he has a spectacular voice on YouTube.
You Keep Coming Back Like a Song
Can’t run away from you, dear
I’ve tried so hard but I fear
You’ll always follow me near and far
Just when I think that I’m set
Just when I’ve learned to forget
I close my eyes, dear, and there you are
You keep coming back like a song
A song that keeps saying, remember
The sweet used-to-be
That was once you and me
Keeps coming back like an old melody
The perfume of roses in May
Returns to my room in December
From out of the past where forgotten things belong
You keep coming back like a song
I also am enthralled by the names of the three principle women in the film and how their
stories are intertwined. Lily is the name of a flower and it represents innocence and purity. Iris is also a name of a flower that is known for its rainbow colors and represents friendship. The name Polly means great sorrow. Polly is the lady rotting in the walls. But what makes me think of its deeper meaning is that both Lily and Iris are flowers that are traditionally placed on the caskets of the dead “and left alone this is how they rot.”
I also think about the tedious doldrum life of the innocent Lily, caring for her patient without much conversation or engagement. It is sort of a ghost like existence. It has been said that ghost are spirits of people that for some reason are stuck between this world and the next often as the result of some tragedy or trauma. In this case, in limbo, at the scene of their death.
There is a great deal to say about Osgood Perkin’s I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House. I do hope you are sufficiently intrigued by this review to watch. I invite you to follow up with a comment so we can further discuss this haunting film.