Janet DeMornay Is A Slumlord (and a witch) is wonderfully creepy – Preview

Janet DeMornay Is A Slumlord (and a witch) explores the inherent horrors of renting an apartment.
janet demornay is a slumlord game screen queensland

There’s something inherently creepy about renting, when you analyse the practice objectively. You’re living in someone else’s home – in a way, occupying their skin. Haunting their walls. Infecting their vibe. Janet DeMornay Is A Slumlord (and a witch), the incredibly-titled next game from Sydney-based studio Fuzzy Ghost (Queer Man Peering Into A Rock Pool.jpg) takes this concept to the extreme, exploring the perils of renting in the form of a first-person escape room-style adventure game.

You embody Andrew, a sharehouse resident of Janet DeMornay’s rental property, contending with the various real-life and magical horrors that linger in the halls of her home. It’s not just rent you need to worry about – but that your apartment keeps getting “bricked” – as in, brick walls will appear from nowhere, and you must walk backwards to de-manifest their presence.

You’re also contending with various hauntings – notably, from a strange blobby man-creature that slinks across corridors and appears in doorways when you least expect him. Janet DeMornay’s apartment is terrifying at every turn. In the closet, you’ll find an odd shrine, home to an oozing tentacle offering. The bathroom keeps moving. You knock on the door twice, and it appears. But flick it four times, and you’re in the laundry.

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janet demornay game
Image: Fuzzy Ghost

That’s not to mention that everything in the apartment is a shade of strange, lurid colour – bright blues, blinding yellows, hot pinks. It gives the sense that you’re occupying a giant-sized playground, with the colours standing in direct contrast to the very real, creeping horror found in Janet DeMornay’s corridors.

Your trip through this house is made all the more stressful by the game’s minimalist soundtrack, which relies on echoes and silence to ramp up the underlying horror. Even on the showfloor at SXSW Sydney 2023, surrounded by the burble of crowd noise, Janet DeMornay Is A Slumlord (and a witch) managed to get under my skin.

And that’s the real beauty of this intriguing gem.

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It begins with the entirely mundane – a group of queer friends renting in an inner-Sydney suburb. Renting. The most normal thing in the world. And yet there is extreme horror in this mundanity, as Fuzzy Ghost explores to its fullest extent.

Janet DeMornay is a literal haunting presence in Janet DeMornay Is A Slumlord (and a witch), exerting control over her tenants, and letting her curses leak into their lives. She is ever-present, and as Fuzzy Ghost describes, becomes an unavoidable part of the household in later parts of the upcoming game.

As the team puts it on the game’s Steam description:

JDM is about being a renter. It’s about landlord overreach. It’s about a legal system built by landlords for landlords. It’s about being a queer and having a found family. It’s also about a witch. And that witch is very interested in what you’re doing. What you’re doing right now. In fact she wants to see you. Please answer the door, Andrew. I have a right to see what you’re doing in my house Andrew this is just a little tenant pop-in why won’t you answer the door answer the door answer the door answer the–”

janet demornay game preview sxsw
Image: Fuzzy Ghost

The most impactful horror shares roots with reality. It’s relatable, even in its obtuse form. Janet DeMornay may be fictional, but she is the reality for so many renters, and in crafting such a funny and creepy caricature of landlords, Fuzzy Ghost imbues Janet DeMornay Is A Slumlord (and a witch) with a sharp a commentary on the state of renting in Sydney.

Fuzzy Ghost abstracts renting in a way that teases out its true horror, ensuring that Janet DeMornay and her intents are fully understood. There is something wrong with renting – in Sydney, and abroad. Landlords wield a strange and uncanny power, in a way that is distinctly invasive, much like Janet DeMornay – whose magic transforms her apartment, exerting her influence and ownership.

In this case, Janet DeMornay’s intrusions cause literal hauntings and possessions, and unleash creepy beings on her tenants. While your typical landlord lacks this power, their impact is just as meaningfully felt, with intrusions of privacy common. Renters are often made to feel like unexpected visits or phone calls are normal – that they should accept the consequences of living in someone else’s property, that they don’t truly own anything.

In our preview at SXSW Sydney, Janet DeMornay Is A Slumlord (and a witch) felt like a clear and honest rebuttal to this conclusion. In its depiction of renting, the game reflects tangible, widespread feelings: the horror of ‘borrowing’ the home of another, the sheer terror of allowing a strange into your home, or knowing your personal space has been violated.

Renting is true horror – and Janet DeMornay Is A Slumlord (and a witch) looks like it’ll be a fascinating exploration of this concept, as it relates to surviving the modern world and its many metaphorical witches.

Janet DeMornay Is A Slumlord (and a witch) launches in 2024. You can now wishlist the game on Steam and follow its developers on Twitter.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.