(Author’s note: the following review contains major spoilers for This House Has People In It, both the short and the additional material involved.)
There’s something in your house right now, and it’s watching you.
Maybe it’s crawling out of your storage room. Maybe it’s speaking from your television. Maybe it’s biding its time in your backyard, making itself useful as it closes in. Maybe it’s touched your loved ones as they slept. Maybe they were awake, but too terrified or confused to have the words to say it. Maybe its the strangers outside, beating your repairman half to death just outside your field of vision. Maybe it’s an imaginary friend that’s become something more real, something tangible, something terrifying. Maybe it’s looking in through the mirror right now, staring at you, darting back whenever you attempt to look. It’s certainly in your periphery, the subtle infrasonic vibrations of your eyes playing tricks on you with shadow men and half-imagined figures wielding violence and sickness, blood and death. Maybe it’s the ghost of your guilt (or hysteria) rising in your throat until it comes out like a festering wound. Maybe it’s your child. Maybe it’s your wife. But it’s there. You are not alone, even as you check every room, every closet, underneath every bed. It has hiding spots you’ve never dreamed of, and one night maybe it will get brave and pounce. Or maybe it’s so satisfied with your slow dying that it never sees a need.
At least, that’s what This House Has People In It has to say. Created by the Wham City comedy crew (headlined, most famously, by Alan Resnick, creator of Alantutorial, Live Forever As You Are Now, and Unedited Footage of a Bear), This House Has People In It is an extension of those shorts, aired on Adult Swim in the wee hours of the morning and later posted for free on YouTube. Ostensibly, this should be a comedy short—Adult Swim is most famous for airing things like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law, after all—but like the rest of Resnick’s work, something unsettling sets in early on and never lets go, an unmistakably surreal brand of art that encourages as many gasps as it does chuckles, purposefully riding the edge between the goofy and the upsetting until they blur together into a whole of tension and release.
So what happens in This House Has People In It? Well, the broad outline is easy enough to sketch: a family, getting ready for the younger son’s birthday party, finds that the daughter’s seeming act of rebellion, laying on the floor of the kitchen, is something much more sinister than it originally appeared. As still as a dead body, she begins sinking through the floor, like some immense weight is pulling her down, or like gravity has been twisted until she phases through solid matter. That’s…really it. But the incident, as expected, is more catalyst for questions than an answer in itself. Why, exactly, is this happening? Why is it being recorded via a handful of security cameras? Who (or what) is that outside, chasing a deer? Who (or, again, what) is that crawling out of an unused room? What is that single frame at the end of the video? And, perhaps most interestingly, what does the over two hours of additional video, audio, text, and photo documents, hidden on a website mentioned in the video, have to do with what we’ve just seen? What is Lynks disease?
Presented as recordings from AB Video Solutions, the online world of This House Has People In It sprawls far beyond the scope of the original film, which, while undeniably effective on its own, becomes absolutely masterful in sight of what’s being hidden just below its surface. Boomy the Cat eating pizzas made of clay and spit, an assault on a repairman happening in plain view but never commented on, a Pepto-Bismol pink monster weighing down everything it touches, a hysterical disease that is both caused and cured by sculpting (at least according to a man who encourages you to get all your sculpting clay from a prison yard) — it’s all a pile-up of imagery, of symbolism, of half-truths metabolizing fear and paranoia into death and a physical reality. If you weren’t dying, you will be as soon as you commit to that truth.
Less abstractly: This House Has People In It began its life as a member of Adult Swim’s infomercial block, friendly home to modern experimental film shorts like viral sensation Too Many Cooks and the aforementioned Live Forever As You Are Now. By itself, it’s quite the experience, a constant rising of tension as an absurd situation becomes horrifying, almost religious in its awe-inspiring fear. Then, as some enterprising viewers searched the website mentioned in its closing title, we found more and more and more, including things like additional video clips from the house’s surveillance, episodes of the TV show playing in the background of the original short, and newsletters about Lynks disease, a non-factor in the standalone short but an integral piece of the alternate reality that was created for it. It’s a sprawling multi-media work that uses the trappings of alternate reality games to lace together a portrait of a family falling apart in its perfect tomb.
As disturbing as the initial short is, the expanded material is even more so, both obfuscating and clarifying what we initially saw with tales of shaved dogs, half-forgotten childhood heroes, filthy ears and perfect pitch. As best as I can explain it: the family we see in the videos might be suffering from Lynks disease, the kind of non-specific and untestable environmental ailment described in things like Todd Haynes’ Safe. This disease begins manifesting itself as a physical being, literally weighing down everything it touches. There’s a repairman, who might have brought the disease into the house in the first place, and there’s a representation of Boomy the Cat (a clear Sonic the Hedgehog stand-in) that eats the trash this suburban family discards. There’s a birthday party, a disappearance, and a final confrontation, but to say much more is all an educated guess: like the best mysteries (or Lovecraftian horrors), knowing the exact sequence of events doesn’t take away the ambiguity of those happenings. Hell, even saying that the pink monster is a manifestation of Lynks disease is a bit of lateral thinking. People use David Lynch as a lazy short-hand of surrealism far too often, but if anything in the past 10 years deserves the adjective “Lynchian”, it’s This House Has People In It. It makes sense, from an A to B sense, but it doesn’t obey logic. It seems to operate on something else; part of the exhilaration of diving in is the impossibility of any one dominating explanation. It’s no wonder that it, for the first time in film since Mulholland Drive, manages to create something as disquieting as that beast behind the diner in Lynch’s modern classic.
That, in many ways, is what makes it so queasily effective. I watch horror films all the time, I listen to horror podcasts whenever I have a free second, and I enjoy a good spooky walk through a cemetery at night. But This House Has People In It shook me. It shook me in a way I haven’t experienced since before I was a teenager. The night I watched it, I went to bed at 10pm, having to get up the next morning at 5am for work. I woke up around 1:30am from a nightmare, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I was too afraid to close my eyes or turn my back to the mirror in my bathroom visible from my bed (small apartment). At 3am, I gave up being brave and ended up turning the lights on just to catch a few more hours of sleep. This doesn’t happen to me. I devour horror. I thought, to some degree, that I was immune to this creeping terror, but as I lay in bed, in the dark of my apartment, my lizard brain kept telling me: something is in here. Something is waiting for you to sleep. Something wishes you harm. It’s that kind of terror that a complete tour of my tiny, one-bedroom homestead couldn’t vanquish. There was nothing there, of course, not in my closet, not in my pantry, not under the bed, not behind the shower curtain, but there again was my brain: you remember what happened to that family in This House Has People In It, right? It’s hiding in the boxes of the bedroom you use for storage. It’s watching you through the window. It’s coming out of the walls. You are not safe.
My paranoia is the pink demon, coming out of the things I’ve forgotten to drag me to somewhere awful. By fearing, I let it in. It’s an elemental, disquieting apprehension about death, about sickness, about suburban ennui. It’s existential as much as it is physical; corruptive normality given manifestation, the infection at the heart of tract homes and Modern Living. I’m being assaulted by the demon of boredom, of complacency, of late capitalism in its purest form, because as clean and sterile and good as everything looks on its shell, it’s a thief, it’s criminal, it needs retribution for the subsoil of exploitation and death. There’s a ghost in every McMansion, waiting to strike. This is not sustainable, it whispers at night; there is something deeply wrong here. And I can’t fall asleep thinking of it. Environmental illness: by merely being here, your lungs accumulate plastic, and all that plastic builds until it’s something that looks like you, something that can’t be denied. And it’s probably standing just behind you.
Directed by Alan Resnick; written by Alan Resnick, Dina Kelberman, and Robby Rackleff; starring Naomi Kline, Robby Rackleff, Rory Ogden, and Jackson Manning; 12 minutes.
This House Has People In It is currently available for free on Adult Swim’s YouTube Channel Here