A Plague of Ghosts – The House of Him

by Elliot Davies.

The House of HimMany low budget films are all but unwatchable. They are poorly edited, poorly acted, and they trudge the same ground that’s been tread thousands of times before, by much more capable feet. At the root of all this lays bad writing. It’s bad writing that fails to explore embryonic ideas, resulting in the sort of hackneyed mess that no amount of cutting room magic could fix. Worse, bad writing makes for bad dialogue. It comes across as stilted, too obviously written. Good actors struggle to bring it to life. Poor actors don’t stand a chance.

The House of Him is a low budget film, but it benefits from one of the finest writers currently operating in the UK. Robert “Rab” Florence is partially responsible for the single best BBC comedy of the past decade, though I fear that few who live outside of Scotland will be aware of this. On top of that, he writes about video games with rare insight, intelligence and warmth, and his writing about boardgames can only be described as “infectious”. He’s also quite the gadabout on Twitter, where he holds the title of “God of Games”, and where he once proclaimed himself to be Scotland’s answer to Chris Pratt.

Having been written, directed and edited by Robert Florence, The House of Him was always going to be more than a few cuts above most low budget films. Even better, it’s a low budget horror that doesn’t resort to tired tropes or gimmicks in order to explain and excuse its graininess. The last thing the world needs is another dreadful found footage disasterpiece.

Unfortunately, the world could also do without yet another self-righteous serial killer, but that’s exactly what the world gets with The House of Him. What’s worse, this serial killer is a misogynistic self-righteous serial killer. He says things like “I don’t kill people. I kill women…”

…at which point I audibly groaned. That’s the sort of thing that makes me want to post a Peter Capaldi “shut up” reaction gif in lieu of a review.

It’s worth persevering, though. Of course it is. The House of Him is a surreal, claustrophobic psychological thriller disguised as a slasher flick. It is regularly tense to the point of being unbearable, and it has a truly devastating subtext. It even manages a few laughs. It might not be the most original horror film of recent years, but it might be one of the best.

I gave up on slashers when I realised that most filmmakers seem to secretly admire their antiheroes. They believe that the slightest hint of a tragic backstory is enough to give their murderers depth. As characters, their victims are so pared down that they become little more than blank canvases, to be dispatched with the sort of trademark panache that demands a sequel.

Mr. Croal – the titular Him – is no such romantic monster, nor are his victims screaming blood filled mannequins. Nothing about this film is lazy. Everything is considered, and nothing is taken for granted. To say any more would be to spoil the experience; but to speak of spoilers would be to suggest that this film relies upon a clever narrative twist. It doesn’t. Instead, it takes one of the most basic of all horror tropes and turns it on its head, before taking it in a direction that I don’t believe has ever been seen before.

It feels weird describing something so dark and brutal as “a labour of love”, but that’s certainly what this is. It was made for around £900 over a period of 16 days, and it was all filmed in Rab’s mum’s house. His daughter even makes an appearance, whilst one of his wrestling friends makes a cameo.

Indeed, the cast is comprised of many who have appeared in previous Robert Florence projects, which suggests that he’s very much amongst friends here. They’re all excellent. Richard Rankin is as damaged, terrifying and infuriating as a serial killer should be. However, he pales in comparison to his “victim”, played by Louise Stewart, who is simply marvellous. No other word will do to describe the things she does with such a frightened and vulnerable character.

I could go on. I could talk about the soundtrack, which manages to channel both Goblin and John Carpenter. I could talk about the simple yet effective set design, which manages to confirm my long-held conviction that stairlifts are bloody scary. The costumes, too, are sure to inspire no small number of Halloween outfits, alongside some knowing nods from those who get the reference.

For this is destined to be a cult affair.

At the moment, The House of Him is exclusive to Vimeo. It can be rented for less than £4, and 10% of all rentals and purchases will be donated to women’s aid charities. Give it a punt.