My Streaming Gem: Why You Should Watch The Beautiful Thing That Lives At Home | Movies

TNot much here was Shirley Jackson in The Haunting of Hill House, a thrillingly spooky Netflix adaptation of the suspenseful American writer’s most famous novel. Mike Flanagan, who wrote and directed the miniseries, drew clearer inspiration from a different master of apocalyptic horror – the king, rather than the queen, of the bestselling horror novel. For a closer approximation of Jackson’s uniquely disturbing voice, that gift she got to lift the hair on the back of the reader’s neck, look instead at a tighter ghost story released by the same streaming service two years ago. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is not officially based on any of the more than 200 published anecdotes of Jackson. Despite this, her spirit haunts every frame, flickering dimly from its darkest corners, like an apparition covered in eggs slowly turning into focus during the film’s creepy opening shot.

Jackson is basically a character in the movie. Her fictional agent is Iris Bloom, an elderly author of “the kind of thick, scary books people buy at airports and supermarkets.” Iris, played by veteran Hollywood actress Paula Prentice (and Erin Boys in flashbacks that drive Jackson home as the bespectacled muse), isn’t long in this world. And so in her secluded and tastefully decorated Massachusetts home, comes Lily Saylor (Ruth Wilson), the hospice nurse who will take care of her until the end. The film does not make arguments for the presence of a third spectral resident — the soul, again, the first thing we see, glowing against the shadows — nor does it hide the dark fate of Lily’s circumstances. As she will quickly reveal, she tells this story from beyond the grave, quietly foreshadowing her certain fate.

This running commentary, so eloquent and allusive, has a certain Shirley Jackson quality as well, such as the first-person prose in Some Lost Manuscripts, which has been dusted off and redirected into a distinctly literary audio commentary. It’s one of the few unconventional ways writer and director Oz Perkins uses to conquer an audience. I The Beautiful Thing Living in the House is basically an exercise in constant anxiety. Perkins, who first made the campus magic movie The Blackcoat’s Daughter and later the revised fairy tale Grungy Gretel & Hansel, knows how to tune every aspect of his scene to a specific neural wavelength. He prefers passages of ominous stillness and calm, interrupted by something that sometimes happens in the night (and by tone-on-tone by his folklorist brother, Elvis). His bleak supernatural visions evoke the faded illustrations of yellow-pulp novels.

There’s a mystery here, too, concerning the former occupant of the property, for whom Iris worked for one of her fearsome page impersonators. (Lily’s musings occasionally seep into the recitations of the novel in question, with excerpts from Lucy Boynton as a grieving young newlywed facing a horrific fate.) But Perkins invests more in ambiance than plot. It’s after the particular sensation of reading a really creepy book late at night and letting your mind play tricks on you, becoming eerily attuned to all the groaning and creaking of a dark old house. To this end, Wilson makes a perfect heroine. The long stretches of I Am the Pretty Thing span a one-woman show, as the Affair star wanders through haunted digs, nervously cheering on herself to keep her fear in check. It’s a wonderfully eccentric performance, with Wilson lent Lily on a wall flower gang that somehow looks modern and old-fashioned. Its archaic presence fits well with a story about people frozen in time by their sudden demise.

There’s something that ran out of time about the movie, too. Its floweryly elongated title alludes to unfashionable pleasures – the way it negates the traditional rewards that lie in the slowest of “rising” slow burns. (Let’s just say Iris’ last name shouldn’t be mistaken for the promise that her home will eventually become a Jack-in-the-Box Bloomhouse.) For Perkins, the son of Norman Bates himself, awe is a spiritual session. He devotes his second feature to his famous father, who makes cameos on rabbit-ear TV, raising a rifle on the battlefield instead of a knife in the bathroom. Just as fervently, the film connects with a library full of coolers of blood and nerves from a woman who pulled them out like clockwork, whose imagination is always racing with some new nightmare to inflict on a gratefully petrified readership. Whatever the name on the bond is, this is the home of Shirley Jackson. It is a sad place to visit.

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