TIFF 2016: I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House

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Lots of staring, and not much else in I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House.

This past week I met someone from the Ontario Film Authority. That’s the not-for-profit company that classifies films for distribution in the province. These are the people who get paid to watch movies – and then classify it as “PG”, “14A”, “18A” etc. I asked if there were any openings, as that sounds like my dream job. How hard could it be to watch an ultra-violent Quentin Tarantino movie and report back that it’s probably not great for kids under 18 to see it? I could be making cash hand over fist. Alas, she brushed aside my job request and told me that’s not actually as great as it sounds. “There’s a lot of crap out there,” she said, referring to the thousands of less-than-stellar movies that have to be rated every year. She must have been thinking of I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House when she said that.

This time last year I saw Osgood Perkins’ debut feature February (now inexplicably titled The Blackcoat’s Daughter on IMDb) and was very positive about it – even if, judging by the IMDb rating, I’m in the minority of those who liked it. I’m not a fan of his sophomore effort. It’s presented as a haunted house story about Lily (Ruth Wilson), a nurse looking after a dying horror novelist (Paula Prentiss) whilst being occasionally tormented by a ghost. However, more accurately, it’s a one-woman film following Lily mumbling under her breath, fiddling with the dials on an old television set and trying to gather the courage to read a horror novel called The Woman in the Walls which – surprise – is literally what the haunting is about.

Most one-actor films have some sort of gimmick – there’s Buried (set entirely in a coffin), Locke (set entirely in a car), and Cast Away (set mostly, but not entirely, on a deserted island). While this film seems to fit the mold – being set entirely in a country home – it misses a key part of the one-actor film: they still talk to other people. In Buried and Locke, the leads spend the entire film talking to other people on the phone, trying to make sense of their situation and solve the problems they find themselves in. Likewise, Cast Away creates a character – the lovable Wilson volleyball – for Tom Hanks to talk to. Let’s just say the only scene of Lily talking with another person – and having that other person intelligently answer her – involves a discussion about mold removal. Other than that, it’s back to our regular mumble-to-myself programming.

It’s not scary (a constant voice-over cuts out any tension – for example, there’s the typical scene where Lily walks by an open doorway and doesn’t notice – gasp – the ghost that the audience does…only to have her voice-over immediately cut in to say: “I didn’t notice the ghost that night but saw her later on”), it’s lazy (it uses the same jump-scare twice…watch out for that television screen!), and worst of all, pretentious. There’s lots of Terrence Malick-esque rhetorical voice-overs about ghosts and repetition of the line “The pretty thing you see is me”, which upon reflection, seems a tad narcissistic.

The correct title of this film should be I Am the Pretty Bored Nurse that Lives in the House and Avoids Talking to Other People, unless it’s about Mold.

Grade: F

Sidenote: The film starts off with a good hook when Lily (in voice-over) states: “I just turned 28. I won’t live to see 29.” Creepy stuff. And then the next scene – this is after her very first day in the house, mind you – has the estate manager (Bob Balaban) checking in on her and saying that she’s been in the house over eleven months now. So the film fast forwards from day one to day 330. I guess nothing interesting happened in those eleven months. It’s too bad they didn’t fast forward any further; nothing interesting happens in the last month of Lily’s life either.

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