prettything

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.




Horror films are usually rife with ghost scares, but there’s something about the possibly of ghosts that can quietly chill you, leave you wondering, cowering, seeing things in shadows. Some particular dark corners, and lonely creaking in some places can breed a terror the mind easily fills with ghost stories. While Lily reckons with living in a haunted house, she’s also in the presence a living, breathing ghost. Ms. Blum’s former self as a vibrant, imaginative writer is now striped away by a degenerating brain.

theprettything

It’s a gorgeous film with whispers of delicious prose, which is enough of an experience for some, including myself. But there are drawbacks that some may find unrewarding. The tale itself is thin, and the title is long and sounds pretentious, but it’s actually another homage to Shirley Jackson. The pacing is slow, and there is no satisfying payoff for the audience’s patience. Instead, the end withers into the lulling loop of haunting.

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.

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  • Sequel62

    What Lynn Cinnamon calls a “portrait of a ghost” strikes me more as a recipe for a ghost. Take one living human being who moves into a house to live a fulfilling life, and watch as her psyche attempts to create or find resonances between her innermost self and the new dwelling. Spinster Iris’s misogamy leads her to fantasize a stillborn marriage for the first owner, which then inspires and fuels her career as a writer, creating the stillborn character of Polly, which she then projects onto Lilly, who herself is already following the breadcrumb trail of ghost clues in Iris’s books. It doesn’t hurt that Lilly has entered the house on the same basis as Iris, with a shattered set of marriage plans and a budding sense of personal doom. The 1-1 transmission of the haunting through the centuries only increases the viewer’s awareness that it isn’t the spectre shouting “boo!” that we actually fear, but our mysterious internal compulsion to submit to personal helplessness against a completely internal, malevolent superior power that has ordained our doom.

    • Thanks for the well-written, thoughtful comment. : )

  • Bugg

    It’s hard to find people who really appreciate this movie. Thanks for this post. I put this movie on semi-regularly while I’m working. It makes pleasant background noise. One thing I’ve never heard anyone mention, is the sense of longing that Iris has for Polly. I get the sense that she was a bit in love with her, possessive of her….and that this, in part, is why she kept herself so isolated all those years.

    I also never see anyone mentioning the timing of Lily’s death (although, she’s dead from the start, I know). Polly scares her to death on the same day that she finally sets up an appointment with the contractor to open the wall up and see what is wrong with it.

    Interesting stuff. Also, as a side note, I always found Shirley Jackson’s work to be creepy, but not much in the way of closure. It sort of exists just to exist, if that makes sense, so it makes perfect sense that this movie doesn’t offer any definitive closure / answers, either. It’s the ultimate homage to Jackson.

  • Randy Clark

    I found it interesting in one particular scene when the nurse, happy to find the old friend TV, kneels in front of the TV and the V.O. says “This is where you begin to rot”. There are too many parallels drawn towards the Writer, the disease, long shots into darkness, and pure dialogue throughout that make me think this entire movie is nothing more than a cleverly designed, literal play on the loss of our greatest ally in story, especially film – the imagination.

  • Ajax Remmey

    not hating on the movie at all- some may love it in fact. i just didn’t think it made any real sense and the concepts are unreasonably cryptic and hard to understand.