Alan Resnick’s mild horror of the mundane surreal

September 4, 2020

A year ago, I would have stated that life is slow most of the time. Very little happens day to day, and it is only in the long run that we see dramatic change. Today, that statement might be met with some disagreement. One of the lessons I think we should take away from this year is that ordinary circumstances can explode into unfamiliar hellscapes where nothing will ever be the same as it once was. There is no better genre to capture these moments, these feelings of ease followed by inescapable panic, than surrealist horror.

Alan Resnick is a surrealist filmmaker whose name is known by few, even in circles that discuss short films. All of his videos aired briefly on Adult Swim but have found most of their popularity on the network’s Youtube channel. Of his four contributions to that channel, one stands out as being far more complex and ambitious than the others: “This House Has People in It,” posted in 2016. This video is unique in that it flips contemporary notions of what a Youtube video should be, allowing for a multimedia experience that stretches far beyond the video itself.

Resnick’s “This House Has People in It” has an enormous amount of content to unpack, and uncovering everything that the work has to offer is beyond daunting. The video is a sequence of footage from a number of CCTV cameras located throughout a family’s home, though the family never seems to pay them any attention or even acknowledge that they are being watched. The initial plot surrounds a teenage girl lying prone on the kitchen floor as her parents try to convince her to get up, assuming she is simply being a defiant teen. In a surreal twist, the girl begins slowly sinking through the floor as if through quicksand, while remaining as stiff and affectless as a corpse. The parents react in horror and utter confusion as the kitchen falls into a state of chaos and panic. The video cuts frequently between different rooms, indicating that someone is actively monitoring the security cameras. The tone is undoubtedly sinister when it is not completely horrifying.

A young boy, the son perhaps, prepares for his birthday party, ignoring the madness occurring in the other room. Also ignorant is a grandmother who remains sitting in her chair watching a television program of Alan Resnick himself sculpting with clay. The surreal imagery of a girl sinking through the floor juxtaposed with mundane suburban happenings all through the lens of some phantom monitor is highly unnerving, to say the least. The parents rush to the basement, the girl’s face already emerging through the ceiling. They stick a wooden post into her face in an attempt to prevent her from sinking any further to no avail. The climax of the film arrives when the girl sinks fully through the floor and falls into the basement. She lands on a mattress, which had been placed to break her inevitable fall, but the footage begins to cut, screams are heard, and the girl disappears. The final sequence shows that all of the characters are now prone on the ground in the very same position that the girl had been in at the start of the film.

The strangeness of this video derives from both its content and style. Resnick’s decision to tell the story through the lens of impersonal security cameras suggests that a malicious figure is causing this family all its troubles. The information given to us in the video’s introduction indicates that this family is unknowingly part of some bizarre experiment, and they are only one of many.

The hidden secrets that one can find in this video are too numerous to describe in length in this article, especially because they transcend the video itself. In the introduction, the security company, which had apparently conducted the surveillance, provides a website: absurveillancesolutions.com. It’s real. The website contains countless easter eggs requiring one to find hidden passwords online to access them all, including dozens of additional audio, text and video files as well as a brief video game. And the background footage of Resnick working with clay? There are over fifty videos of this seemingly pointless b-roll available on the internet. The insanity of such gratuitous footage is hard to comprehend. Resnick wanted people to spend hours delving into the countless clues he painstakingly laid out, knowing that only a small fraction of people who viewed the video would even think to do so.

Surreal film is by no means a new or unique genre, nor is its tendency to evoke feelings of unease. Resnick’s style, however, is one of a kind in that it contrasts unexplainable oddities with the lives of real people in a world that feels as though it has existed for years and would continue to do so. “This House Has People in It” produces a potent satire of mundane middle class existence, while eliciting fear without the use of jump scares or violence of any kind. Perhaps the most disturbing element of this work is that, despite its bizarre nature, the multimedia experience feels all too real.

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