The horror/drama His House (streaming on Netflix) is about a couple haunted by more than a supernatural presence. They are haunted by what they have seen, what they have done and what they have to do to make a better life for themselves. It reaches deep into its characters, mingling their fears with their hopes and dreams. It maintains a strong atmosphere of dread throughout, mainly because of how well it establishes that their ghosts live inside them; a constant reminder of their pasts. Yes, there seems to be something living in the walls of their new house, but what’s really scaring them is their shared trauma and the sense that they will never truly belong. Due to the way it marries real-life terrors (including the current conversation around asylum-seekers) with things that go bump in the night, His House is compelling and surprisingly powerful.
Bol and Rial have fled war-torn South Sudan to seek asylum in England. Their caseworker implores them to assimilate as fast as they can (“Be one of the good ones”). Though Bol tries his hardest to fit in, Rial cannot shake the feeling that they should not be there. To make matters worse, law states that, while under probation, they can’t go many places, essentially trapping them in their new house that seems to be possessed.
The difficulties they face come from two sides. First, there are the aggressions coming from their new country. They are condescended to by the people who get to decide if they can stay. Bol is followed around a clothing store by a security guard. Rial is told to “go back to Africa.” Then there are their memories; specifically of their daughter, who drowned during their escape. All of this tells Rial they should leave, but it just makes Bol extra determined to make a go of it in their run-down house. This is presented with a minimum of jump scares. Their experiences are more terrifying than any creature could possibly be.
What makes His House so effective is how easily the horror elements mix with their struggles immigrating to a new country. Writer/director Remi Weekes (making his feature debut as both) roots everything in the histories of his main characters. He shows us enough of what they have gone through to make it clear why they had to flee and why Bol is willing to accept the way they are treated in England. The people are unwelcoming, the house is a mess and they are always confronted with what they left behind. This adds up to the feeling of “you don’t belong here.” Weekes explores the emotional strain put on their marriage in a way that is honest and unsettling.
His House is obviously dramatizing the treatment refugees receive when leaving a dangerous situation for a much safer one. They are classified as potential criminals who should be happy with whatever meager scraps are thrown their way. Assimilation can mean escape or it can mean discarding your own culture so that your new neighbors are comfortable. Every decision pushes them closer to their past, making the ghosts louder and Bol more focused on ignoring them.
I like this approach to horror. To me, guilt and shame are scarier than a masked slasher or murderous monster. It contains creepy images, menacing visions as well as some blood, but the stuff that will stay with me is Bol’s laugh of joy when told they can stay, at least temporarily, the look on Bol’s face when he asks their caseworker for help or the sound of Rial’s voice when she calls Bol a liar. It is what is inside, what can never be forgotten, what can never be let go of, that is the real danger. His House is haunted by the realities of its characters’ predicament more than by whatever is in their house.
Horror is a great genre for creating metaphors for real issues. You don’t have to look very far to see what Weekes is saying. He has made something that works as horror because it is so pointed in its social commentary. This is a movie that is fascinating as it unfolds, thought-provoking in its aftermath and makes me eager to see what Remi Weekes is going to do next. It’s very good.
4 out of 5
Sope Dirisu as Bol
Wunmi Mosaku as Rial
Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba as Nyagak
Matt Smith as Mark
Written and Directed by Remi Weekes