I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House online movie review - Slow... slowly... slowly go... go nowhere!
Here's a dilemma I have occasionally faced: I'm having trouble falling asleep; I can't turn off my brain, I feel lonely. So I wanna play something on the TV, to fill up the silence and provide a sense of company.
However, if what I choose to play is too interesting, I'll get drawn-up in the story and that will keep me awake. What to do, what to do?
Oz Perkins' "I Am The Pretty Thing With a Very Long Title" is a surefire solution to this problem. At least, it was for me last night. I hadn't watched this film with the intention of using it as a sleep-aid. I'd actually expected it to be worthwhile. But it was long, and very slow, and extremely quiet, and almost completely uneventful. By the time it was over, I was so sleepy I could hardly keep my eyes open. Afterwards, I went to bed and slept like a baby!
I'm not the kind of person who calls a film "slow" very easily. I've admired and enjoyed a great many films that other people seem not to have the patience for. I find the entirety of Kubrick's "2001" to be deeply interesting (yes, even the part concerning the apes, which most people seem to skip through). I've enjoyed the two Tarkovsky films I've seen. I enjoyed Nicholas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives" and "The Neon Demon." Recently, I absolutely loved "Arrival," while a lot of folks were calling it slow and boring.
The thing is, I understand why many people perceive the films I've just mentioned as being "slow" -- these films are (for the most part) more concerned with Ideas and Subtext than with the more approachable mechanics of Plot and Character Development. So, the plots of these films proceed rather slowly (as compared to, say, the average Marvel MCU film), and although none of these films dispense with character development entirely, it's something that certainly functions in service to the ideas being communicated. In films like this, audacious visuals and evocative sound-cues often loom large, and every line of dialogue takes on a heightened sense of meaning.
"Pretty Thing" seems to strive to be one of these films -- only, it has few (if any) interesting ideas. What it does have is a well-crafted atmosphere, no character-development at all, hardly any dialogue, and the barest essentials of a plot.
Here's the setup: We have a woman, Lily, who comes to work as a nurse at the house of Iris Blum. Blum was once a prolific author of thriller paperbacks, but has now succumbed in her old age to dementia. So Lily tends to Iris. Iris keeps calling her Polly. Lily has no idea who Polly is. And also, the house seems to be haunted.
For a long time, the film's dreamlike style (which seems like equal parts David Lynch and Terrance Malick) has us believing that things will not prove to be as straightforward as they appear. Certain symbolic motifs -- such as a growing patch of mold on the wall -- are introduced, and the film plays around with them in a way which has us believing that there's something lurking under the surface of the film. We await one of those mind-bending reversals that David Lynch likes to pull -- a moment like the "Club Silencio" sequence from "Mulholland Drive," after which our interpretation of the entire film will have to be adjusted.
But ultimately, no, that's not on the agenda. Despite the way the film keeps insisting upon a certain ambiguity, despite the occasional visions of Polly, despite the surreal isolation of Lily and Iris, despite the surreal nature of the house itself -- and despite the way that the film's style keeps deliberately obfuscating the plot, making it seem more complicated than it is -- the film ultimately boils down to one of the most straightforward and uneventful ghost-stories I've ever sat through. There are no twists.
What there is, however, is a lot of atmosphere. The old house isn't especially spooky, but Perkins and crew light it and film it in a way that achieves an interesting effect. Also, the film's score is quite evocative, consisting of what sounds at times like a guitar and at times like a piano, piped through a very surreal and ghostly reverb.
The atmosphere, it seems, is really what this film is about. It revels in the atmosphere, luxuriates in it. A simple sequence, where Lily discovers a box in the attic, plays out over the course of nearly 10 minutes. The music suggests ominous portent. She slowly, slowly, very slowly, crosses the room. The music shivers and gasps. Slowly, very slowly, she feels the top of the box and discovers that it's taped closed. The sound of a cymbal being rubbed with wet rubber. Slowly, she produces a pair of scissors. And then, slow with dread, she slowly, slowly cuts the tape. Finally, VERY SLOWLY, OH SO SLOWLY, she opens the box.
What's inside? Well, it's not particularly interesting, but that's beside the point, I guess. The point, I assume, is the feeling of creeping dread that the scene is attempting to evoke. Scenes like this comprise the majority of the film's running-time.
All told, there's enough good material here to support a thoroughly- decent 15-minute short-film. At a runtime of nearly 90 minutes, "Pretty Girl" stretches itself into a hopeless bore.
But hey! It's a hell of a sleep-aid.