I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is a Netflix original ghost story that haunts more with its quiet beauty than with fear. It’s a love letter to the lyrically chilling Shirley Jackson and a study on the lonely emptiness of ghosts unable to move past the shock of death. We use ghosts to scare ourselves, to play on what we fear may be lurking in the shadows, to explain the memories of the dead that weave into the fabric of our minds, but this film is more of an atmospheric look into what it feels like to be a ghost, as well as the sort of mundane, low-grade terror of suspecting you live in a haunted house.
It’s not a ghost story as much of a ghost portrait. Ruth Wilson plays Lily, a hospice nurse sent to live with an ailing horror writer, Iris Blum, who seems to be molded after Shirley Jackson. It’s suggested that her most famous book The Lady in the Walls, might be based on reality. Lily stays in the place for a year, and you know from the start that she will be dead by the end. The time in between her arrival and her demise is spent ticking away the hours: reminding Ms. Blum that she is Lily, her nurse, and not the protagonist in the book, obsessing over an malignant-looking mold creeping on the wall, and generally dealing with the isolation of living all alone with someone who has dementia. The build is slow, and the death itself feels uneventful, but the movie lingers on with its beautiful sense of gloom.