Refugee couple Bol and Rial (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku) make a harrowing escape from war-torn South Sudan in search of safety. They arrive in a small English town and the government place them a seemingly normal estate house. But the couple struggle to settle into their new life when they hear scratching and banging behind the walls. Where is the real source of evil; inside the house or outside their walls?
There is little scarier in our modern world than the plight of millions of refugees worldwide. People looking for a better life often have to navigate extreme violence and poverty in their country before they escape, over land or sea, on an even more dangerous journey. When they eventually arrive in their new ‘home’ they are forced to isolate with other refugees, often for years and without adequate trauma support, trying to get a visa; all while being treated as suspicious and untrustworthy outsiders by the local community.
It’s perfect material for social commentary and for horror. His House, Netflix’s newest film in a slew of recent projects and Remi Weekes’ directorial debut of, nails both briefs.
Weekes shows no signs of being fazed by directing and writing a movie which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and was subsequently acquired by Netflix. His House oozes character, juggling the twin horror/tension builders of a house plagued by the ghosts of a traumatic past and an outside world that’s indifferent at best and often aggressive to outsiders. In fact, the film makes some striking and extremely damning points about society’s treatment of those who are different and the inhumane handling of refugees by governments. There’s no film quite like it that addresses the refugee crisis, and it really help His House to stand above Netflix’s other horror films.
The plot of His House impressively blends two horror elements at first: the haunting within the house and the refugee couple’s struggle to fit into a new society. The latter point is particularly insidious, a slow-burning dread marked by social workers and townspeople saying things like “be one of the good ones”. This veiled threat plays on your paranoia throughout the film; but as it progresses this tension drops as the ghost narrative comes more to the fore. Had Weekes better balanced these twin messages, His House could have been unrelentingly frightening.
His House Leads Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku are intensely impactful as married couple Bol and Rial, with both actors crafty in communicating their respective traumas. Dirisu’s Bol tries to white-wash his past, playing up his new ‘English’ identity in how he eats and talks, and literally trying to destroy then rebuild their house. Mosaku’s Rial, meanwhile, wears her scars outwardly, retaining her Sudanese dress and openly acknowledging her daughter’s death. These different forms of grieving play off each other to build tension. Towards the film’s climax, as Bol goes mad, the couple’s chemistry falls away as the plot picks up pace though, losing the spark generated across the film. There is little for the supporting cast to do either. Matt Smith is wasted as pally caseworker Mark as he starkly contrasts the indifference of others in the refugee system; a lost opportunity to use an intriguing character to further criticise the treatment of refugees.
His House is an ingenious take on the over-done haunted house story. A few plot tweaks, and some more involvement from the supporting cast, would have made this a modern classic.
The horror of His House goes beyond the ghouls; it’s in every moment the couple step outside their front door or confront their traumatic past. 7/10.