Just before Halloween, Netflix dropped the second film by Oz Perkins. Eager to see it based on the festival buzz for his delayed release debut “The Blackcoat's Daughter”, your correspondent jumped right in a whole week later like the totally with it person he is.
Anyway, “Pretty Thing” (as I will henceforth refer to it) is an odd beast, not quite like anything else out there. It starts with an arresting and vaguely spooky image of the film's ghost slowly walking backwards while our protagonist Lily intones a monologue about how houses where deaths occurred are only rented from the living by the dead. We are soon introduced to Lily (Ruth Wilson, excellent) who it turns out is a hospice nurse, 28 years old and (as her narration tells us while she looks directly at the viewer) will never be 29. Ulp. She is here to look after an ailing writer called Iris who has penned numerous famous horror novels in her remote home.
Our Lily is a bit of a wuss when it comes to all things horror, and Wilson effectively portrays her nervousness through the scant interactions she has with her charge and her employer. Her dialogue is halting and scarce compared to the deliberately novelistic eloquence of her narration and things going bump in the night scare the whatsit out of her. Needless to say this is a bad thing.
When things inevitably turn spook-shaped, Lily discovers that events closely match those in a novel Iris wrote involving a murdered girl called Polly. To make things more creepy, Iris consistently refers to Lily as Polly. Past, present and future, fact and fiction are soon inseparably intertwined.
“Pretty Thing” is a slow, lyrical film that lets you know from the off from that you're not in for a ghost train of jump scares. In fact, Perkins holds static camera shots featuring dark doorways and windows to lead you on. You expect a shock but he pulls away with nothing happening. The unease this creates is one of the film's greatest assets, while the scant “traditional scares” feel all the more earned for making you wait.
So it's not for everyone, and indeed the backlash has been brutal. It might be a bit too slow even for Mildly Unnerving, and Lily's endless posthumous narration can grate a little. However, if you can tune it to its strange frequency and let the chilly atmosphere seep in it does reward the patient viewer with a unique and intelligent take on the ol' haunted house mystery - 6/10