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Every so often, you come across a piece of storytelling that creeps into your heart and splits it open with chilly intimacy. I knew very little about I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House before watching it on Netflix, apart from it having the same director as The Blackcoat's Daughter, which came highly recommended. I'm not even sure what compelled me to watch it last week; only I was in bed earlier than usual and wanted something spooky and atmospheric to lull me to sleep.



That did not happen. Oh, it was spooky and atmospheric all right, but I did not sleep soundly. I even had to put the nightlight on. What's most fascinating however is when I started tagging the usual crowd (the Horror fan corner of Twitter, mostly) to gush about it, the first responses ranged from, "Eh, pretty boring," to "I don't remember I fell asleep." Not all of them, and at least one said it got better on the second viewing. Still, this seems to be a movie that you either can't be bothered with; or that understands you so completely it feels almost rude to talk about it above hushed tones.


I'm not going to summarize the plot for you. There's a house, and a ghost, and a moldy spot on a wall, and a tragic death. The details don't really matter. You could attempt to unravel the mystery played up by an infamously unfinished horror novel; or the slowly spreading mold on the wall; or what happened to the young couple who disappeared when the house was built; but it's not really about those things. They are the framework around which the director has built his cage for the protagonist. Lily's death has a miasmic inevitability that's not quite violent, not quite unexpected, but also not easy to explain. I still don't know exactly what happened to Lily. I assume she died of "fright" if you're prepared to accept that that's a thing that can happen in the real world.

But then again, this isn't exactly the real world we're visiting here. Bottom line: This is a mood piece. It puts you inside the narrator's head as she quietly, almost dispassionately, recounts the events leading up to her own death. It's just familiar enough to be predictable, but rather than trying to subvert this with a twist, the director leans into his chosen storyline and keeps pushing you, inch by inch, towards a conclusion that we are already privy to.

The reason this got to me is Lily's mood. She’s isolated, both by choice and circumstance, and speaks directly to the audience but distances herself from them at the same time. Both in the daylight intervals as she's working as a hospice nurse, and in the otherworldly narration from beyond the grave, Lily’s fate is a perfect metaphor for depression. I don't talk about this a lot, because it’s personal, but on my worst days--this it how that feels. Like you are transforming into an inhuman creature who has forgotten how to move on, and simply lets the rot set in. Depression is bleak. It's cold and distancing. Also, it is tedious. You get trapped in a pattern of repetition and routine, not because you find it comforting or orderly, but because you just don't know what else to do.

I've sometimes imagined myself as a ghost, drifting through the motions of the day over and over, either unwilling or unable to break that cycle. There’s a moment in the latter half of this movie when Lily describes herself in almost exactly the same way. She isn’t being held against her will. She has no unfinished business, apart from the usual theme of a life cut short. She’s caught in that bizarre midpoint between restlessness and lethargy. In her own words, she let herself rot.

It’s easy to see why people could find this boring, or slow, or uneventful. Not much happens in this movie. A year sneaks by without much changing. Lily doesn’t seem to do anything with her day. But it got to me. It crawled into my mind and made a nest, the way mold clings to a damp wall and spreads bit by bit when you’re not looking.

This movie spoke some of my own secrets to me without warning me beforehand. And that, dear readers, is why I had to put the light on.

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