Writer-director Osgood Perkins says that Saturday’s world premiere of his Netflix film I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House at the Toronto International Film Festival was the first time he had seen the supernatural terror tale with “more than one or two human bodies in the room.” Even so, the filmmaker reveals that he wasn’t that nervous before the screening.
“I didn’t feel overconfident,” Perkins tells EW. “But, at the end of the day, I was relatively confident that what we had was at least different. No one was going to say, ‘Well, I’ve seen that s— before!’ That’s the kiss of death, I think. And the reception was outstanding. They laughed at things that were supposed to be laughed at and they jumped at the thing that they should have jumped at. Nobody booed. Nobody got up. It was great.”
Osgood’s slow-burning creepfest stars The Affair‘s Ruth Wilson as a nurse named Lily who is employed to provide care for a Shirley Jackson-esque horror writer, played by Paula Prentiss (The Parallax View), at what turns out to be the author’s very spooky abode.
“I had written a shorter thing about a woman in a head cast, who was in a bed in an old American house, whose father was a horror writer, and she was being taken care of by nurses,” Osgood recalls of the project’s origins. “Then, one day, it just changed. I’m a believer that, once you start writing something, it does take on a life of its own. I had laid all the track for this one thing, and it just reversed itself, and bloomed into this thing. A lot of the best, dreamy stuff happens that way.”
After Netflix agreed to finance the movie, Osgood met with multiple actresses about the plum role of Lily, who is the only character onscreen for many scenes. “When a script gets greenlit, then everyone starts to care about it,” the director says. “So when Netflix says, ‘Yes, we’ll give you the money that you want, and you can go ahead and make it right away,’ then every agency in town wants their people in it. The whole thing becomes a big interview process and you meet a lot of people. As the writer, I felt a little insecure, honestly, about the script. Ruth Wilson’s response to it was so positive and she was really excited about the poetry of it. I felt like, I can’t believe my luck that I would have such a strong actor, an actually self-possessed stage actor, who is going to really work their ass off in this. It was like, ‘Really? You really want to do this?’ I couldn’t imagine a better scenario and all of a sudden there were no other choices.”
Prentiss, meanwhile, is an old family friend, whose husband, actor-director Richard Benjamin (Westworld, The Sunshine Boys) was a good pal of Osgood’s father, the late Psycho star Anthony Perkins. “They were on Broadway together in the ’60s [in Neil Simon’s The Star-Spangled Girl],” Perkins says. “So when it came time to cast this movie up, and I had this little part of a writer, there was only Paula Prentiss.”
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is Perkins’ second film and second horror movie, after the Emma Roberts- and Kiernan Shipka-starring The Blackcoat’s Daughter. That film premiered at last year’s TIFF under the name of February and has been the subject of hugely positive buzz, but has yet to be released.
“It’s run into a few little snags here and there with distribution,” Perkins explains. “But A24 will release it theatrically at the very beginning of 2017. Honestly, it’s actually rather good. At this point, I can say that I hated it while I was cutting it, and I was nervous about it when we showed it, but the reception was overwhelmingly positive. I quite like it now.”
Perkins explains it is no coincidence that this child of a horror icon is himself such a fan of the genre. “It was my father’s business,” he says. “As some children go into banking because their fathers are bankers, and some people become dentists because their fathers are dentists, one of my ways of connecting with my old man — who I couldn’t always connect with — was through the fact that he was an icon in this genre.”
As a kid, Perkins actually appeared in Psycho II, playing the young Norman Bates, and later returned to acting with roles in Legally Blonde and Secretary before starting to carve out a directing career. The filmmaker is currently at work on another movie script and developing a TV show he would both write and direct. “I read a lot of scripts but they’re all completely not me,” he says. “And so I end up passing on everything.”
It’s certainly difficult to imagine the man behind the atmospheric, highly composed, and virtually gore-free I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House signing on to oversee, say, a Friday the 13th reboot. “Well, you know, it’s funny that you should say that,” Perkins says. “Because for that literal movie I was called in by Paramount. I gave them what I thought was f—ing outstanding pitch I was really excited about. Because, like, why not? You know, why not go and do something like that, and make it great, make it new and interesting, and make it sort of classical, but weird and modern. And guess what? They didn’t want to do it that way.”
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House debuts on Netflix Oct. 28. See the film’s TIFF screening schedule at the festival’s official site.