Osgood Perkins’ slow-burning ghost story I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is a horror movie that forgot to be a horror movie—void of any real scares, Perkins’ sophomore effort is all about exposition and building atmospheric tension within the walls of an old home. The problem, however, is that the film never does anything interesting (or even remotely scary) with all the tension it so meticulously creates. The film follows Lily, a young nurse hired to care for elderly Helen Bloom, a best-selling author of ghost stories who has chosen to live out her final days in her beloved country home—a home that holds an horrific ghost story of its own.
Outside of the first 10 minutes, there’s nothing engaging about the story or its two characters (one of which is hardly in the movie at all), so we’re basically left with watching a girl—one that’s scared of her own shadow—meander throughout an elderly woman’s home for a year. While she’s there she starts to piece together the story of a ghost, ripped from the very pages of a book, that’s been haunting the home for years. The concept is great, sure, and it’s immediately intriguing, but after 90-minutes of nothing happening and an ending that can only be described as weak, I have to call bullshit on this one.
If there’s anything I did like about Pretty Thing, however, is Perkins’ take on a genre that’s as old as horror itself—it’s this quiet, poised little haunted house tale that does a wonderful job of capturing that feeling of being in a strange home by yourself. The soundtrack isn’t overbearing like most horror movies, as it just barely scratches at the background of the film. It’s understated in a way that made the home to come to life and it actually amplified those mysterious bumps in the night. But for the same reason you don’t make comedies without humor or action movies without thrills, Pretty Thing desperately needed something scary to make the narrative engaging. I just don’t get what the movie was trying to say, or do, because the entire thing felt lost and hollow.
The movie is always building towards something, but what that something is I don’t really know because it has no meaningful outcome. It feels like a traditional ghost story just without any real sense of direction (or horror). And because it’s missing those elements that make a horror movie a horror movie—it never instills those feelings of dread or panic, terror or distress—Pretty Thing ultimately feels as empty and lifeless as the very ghost that haunts the story.