While the housing bubble has long since imploded, the haunted housing market is still booming.
Fertile ground for exploring white suburban anxiety, the American family dream home—or what's left of it—has been taunted by impending doom as much as the razed communities and forgotten burial grounds it's inevitably built over. From "Poltergeist" messing with "Bobos in Paradise" by sending a developed-over cemetary spirits dancing through a weed-smoking Reaganite's television to stuff like "Paranormal Activity" using the degraded quality of surveillance footage to make domestic cohabitation a shuddering eyesore, it's surprising the bubble hadn't popped earlier. And now, with both alt-found footage anthologies like "V/H/S" and parodies of the aforementioned "Paranormal Activity" having reached multiple sequel status, it only makes sense to construct an interactive joke to sift through its decaying, digitalized remains.
Enter Adult Swim's "This House Has People In It," where merely being human inside a house is enough to make it haunted. This is the latest from Baltimore's AB Video Solutions, the team that previously made "Unedited Footage Of a Bear" and "Live Forever as You Are Now."
Here, reconfigured as AB Surveillance Solutions, "This House Has People In It" (made with AB members Alan Resnick, Ben O'Brien, Cricket Arrison, Robby Rackleff, and Dina Kelberman),* combs through one family's disastrous would-be birthday celebration as seen through their home monitoring system. In one room, a milquetoast husband and wife trade baby-holding duties and argue about a modest vacation in Disney or an adventure in South Africa while a seemingly lifeless body graces their kitchen floor. In another, their son sits around party favors while his grandmother, in a nearby recliner, gets an almost erotic charge from an infomercial starring Resnick. In the basement, a repairman is putting a wrench to a pipe.
The occasional split screen presents a house divided and then subdivided, with escalating intertias overturned by an otherwise-ignored void that soon forces the disparate boredoms to collapse in on each other. Small, overlapping gestures—an infant molds slop on a highchair near the figure on the floor before Resnick molds clay on television, noting it's like "the inside of a body"—signal the eventual implosion. A corner flickers and what looks like the electric gremlin from "Gremlins 2" darts across the bottom. The lifeless body turns out to be a sullen teen whose prostrate position is misinterpreted as protest until both parents realize she's stuck in and sinking through the floor. Soon, the father's laissez-faire approach to monitoring the exploratory wonders of young adulthood—"let her...write her own story!"—gives way to accusing the mother of giving her daughter pills because all women take them. Guests outside wait in confusion, chaos reigns, and possibly hell drags suburbanites down from their bullshit existence.
The segment's horrors aren't self-contained. A link of sorts between the viral marketing stunts of now and the adventurousness of hypertext fiction-era, "This House Has People In It" comes with a website for AB Surveillance Solutions that satirizes the legal loopholes which modern surveillance abuses. On the FAQ page, a question about whether or not the customer has to live in the house being surveilled is made doubly horrifying by a very deniable plausible deniability wherein AB is "not legally allowed to ask you anything about the address you choose for the installation" and "[t]he address is entirely up to you, but WHERE the cameras get installed—well that's up to us!" A Reddit thread where users, thankfully diverted from MRA nonsense, uncover hidden frames and related audio/video clips in the site archives, turns a short film into a community-involved "House of Leaves." That viewers can connect threads but can't put a family's dashed dreams back together is maybe its greatest achievement—crowd-sourced, melancholic irony.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly assumed that "This House Has People In It" was mainly produced by Alan Resnick and Ben O'Brien, and failed to include Cricket Arrison as a collaborator. City Paper regrets the errors.