Appropriately, we’re wrapping up more-or-less sophisticated scary month on Halloween with an extremely atmospheric haunted house story. The title is truly excellent and the actress from my favorite adaptation of Jane Eyre stars. Sometimes I feel the filmmakers have bugged my brain.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
Where to Watch:
The Uncondensed Version:
Beginning with a suitably creepy narration, this film is atmospheric AF—no one really owns a house where a death happened; they’re just borrowing it from its ghosts.
Lilly is a nurse who tells us she is 28 but will never be 29. She is a hospice nurse working for a new patient, Iris Blum. Blum is a writer of classic horror novels in the style of Shirley Jackson. Lilly has never read any of these, finding even a few pages much too scary for her tastes.
It’s honestly kind of a miracle Lilly has made it to 28 as a functioning adult as she seems to be afraid of virtually everything. She’s really creeped out spending the first night alone with Ms. Blum and calls a friend for comfort. I’m not sure when this is set, but the tv has an antenna, and the only phone option is a landline, which rather ominously flies out of her hand while she’s speaking. There are also some mysterious thumps coming from upstairs.
When Ms. Blum wakes up in the middle of the night, Lilly puts her back to bed. Confused, Ms. Blum refers to her as Polly, which Lilly shrugs off…until it happens again and again. Who the actual fuck is Polly? she wonders, but probably with nicer, Midwestern language.
Lilly doesn’t expect Ms. Blum to live for long, but 11 months later, she’s still going strong. The estate agent checks in to make sure all is well, and Lilly asks if the wall that has mysteriously sprouted mold could be fixed. He’s not sure the estate will approve the expense, but he does helpfully explain the mystery of Polly, a character from Blum’s novel The Lady in the Walls.
The novel is notable for its lack of horrific ending—to stay true to the premise of Polly telling her story to the narrator, we never know exactly what happens to Polly. However, it is hinted that she met a rather grisly end before staying even one night in the house with her husband in the 1800s. Polly tells us she left the world the same way she entered it: wearing nothing but blood (that line, man).
As Lilly learns more about Polly’s fate, she also begins seeing things to upset the pristine world she has created. Dedicated to cleanliness, she almost always wears white, but marks begin to spread on her clothes and body like spots of mold. Following the mold leads her to a box of letters that reveal a haunting truth.
Lilly does finally get a glimpse of Polly…but really wishes she hadn’t.
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
Atmosphere, people. The filmmakers crush the hell out of the atmosphere on this one. Coincidentally, I discovered the writer/director is none other than the son of Anthony Perkins, and he has the damning first name Osgood. All coming together now, isn’t it?
But anyway, atmosphere check. Creepiness check. Gorgeous cinematography check. However, what annoys me here is complete lack of explanation. Any time it seems we’ll dive deeper into character motivations and backstories, we jump back out of the water immediately (to take the diving metaphor further than strictly necessary). I know that’s the goddamn point of this ghost story—we are, after all, only borrowing the story. But I still wanted to understand the characters much better than I did because I can sense they would have had fascinating backstories.
I saw a review about this film that said something about this being the most faithful adaptation of a Shirley Jackson novel without actually being based on a Shirley Jackson movie. I could see that, especially considering Lilly’s voice as a narrator, and the masterful creation of suspense. Very little happened, but I found myself holding my breath through most of the film. All I know is I’m seriously ready for the film adaptation of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, ok? Listening, Osgood Perkins?
Is Christa the Pretty Impressed Thing That Lives in the House or the Pretty Nonplussed? Find out here!