THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE
(US/Canada - 2016)
Written and directed by Osgood Perkins. Cast: Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss, Bob Balaban, Lucy Boynton, Erin Boyes, Brad Milne. (Unrated, 89 mins)
A cold, stark, slow-burning mood piece that received accolades at this year's Toronto Film Festival where it was acquired by Netflix, I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE is the first released film by actor-turned writer/director Osgood Perkins (his first film, THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER, has been tied up in distribution limbo since 2015 and is due to be released in early 2017). The film feels very personal for Perkins, the son of legendary PSYCHO star Anthony Perkins and photographer Berry Berenson, and named after his actor grandfather Osgood Perkins, best known as the doomed mob boss toppled by Paul Muni's title character in the original 1932 version of SCARFACE. It's a story of lingering ghosts, both supernatural and psychological, and it's something that almost certainly carries emotional weight for Perkins after the traumatic loss of both of his parents, his father (to whom the film is dedicated), who died of AIDS in 1992, and his mother, who was on one of the planes flown into the World Trade Center on 9/11 nine years later. This is an uncompromising film that's unquestionably a singular, unique vision by its creator, made with no commercial consideration whatsoever. Unfortunately, that's also its downfall. From a plot perspective, you'll figure out the Shyamalanian twist five minutes in, unless you've never seen a movie before. That may be by design: Perkins doesn't seem particularly interested in telling a story as much as creating a mood and atmosphere. He succeeds for a while, but it makes for a hard sit, with 89 minutes feeling like four hours. This would've made a fine, eerie short film. As it is, it feels like about 15 minutes worth of material stretched out to an hour and a half, and ultimately, the emphasis on mood and the pervasive sense of dread only feels like stylistic smoke and mirrors, absurdly prolonging the obvious direction in which the flimsy narrative is headed at the most laborious pace imaginable.