(Lago Film / Sky TV)
Shot in a disused ex-German Democratic Republic hospital, grim, foreboding and bleak, this new German horror thriller offers virtually no respite from its grime and misery. Teenage Juri (Tristan Gobel) arrives at a new apartment block with his father Jaschek (Charly Hubner), who is the new maintenance guy for the building. The first episode begins with Juri encountering a homeless man outside, who presages doom, and of course they wander inside the building and soon discover the heating broken and the radiators full of black gunk.
From the first two episodes, it seems the entire show is filmed in grey, the image desaturated and broken down like the inhabitants of the apartment block, utterly depressing and impossible to like. There is a couple who can barely afford to feed their baby, the father making some kind of wordless deal with the building for what appears to be a hallucinogenic drug, waking to find the baby vanished, possibly fallen down the garbage chute to the basement, where Jaschek battles against the black grime with vinegar, forcing the heating into life. The baby’s cries can of course still be heard, the cliché of child-lost-to-another-dimension-but-still-audible box ticked.
This is the kind of depressing, surreal and dreamlike horror piece where the outside world barely looks in and characters are without agency: the police do not look for the baby, we see one person going down the chute to look but there are no door-to-door enquiries, the characters are utterly unlikeable and empathy for them is difficult to find: the baby excepted. When Juri goes to school the block seems to cast a pall over the landscape outside, fog drifting everywhere: the impact of the evil of the block over the surrounding country might be effectively rendered by someone like Ben Wheatley, but Thomas Stuber’s direction seems flat and laborious. A “party” in the block, in something like a commune, features the incongruous sound of Talking Heads, “Burning down the house”, which I suspect may be clumsy foreshadowing for the ultimate fate of the possessed high-rise.
What the source of the evil manifested here precisely is remains unclear, and Hausen needs to work through its dream-logic to provide a narrative for us to grasp at. Juri’s mother has died, perhaps his and Jaschek’s loss is driving their respective fates, but until this sci-fi/horror/thriller (delete as appropriate following inevitable last episode twist) decides on what it is, the misery is just too much. Hausen may remind you of The Kingdom, Lars von Trier’s supernatural series set in a hospital, or even Fortitude, with its bleak environment and mysterious evil. Both those series however had at least a human heart beating somewhere, and the odd moment of good humour. Have I mentioned how bleak this is?
For surreal tales of apartment blocks with odd characters behind every door, all Hausen achieves is to send me looking for my box set of Sean Lock’s Fifteen Storeys High. For institutional horror, back to The Kingdom. Of course, this is from the first two episodes alone and that caveat should be noted, but compared to the world building and narrative detail of, for instance, The Terror, (for all its CGI issues!), Hausen currently seems to have the appeal and stodgy consistency of a bowl of its own black gunk.