Synopsis – A refugee couple makes a harrowing escape from war-torn South Sudan, but then they struggle to adjust to their new life in an English town that has an evil lurking beneath the surface.
My Take – With Netflix‘s offloading of their well-advertised IP releases for the spooky month of October finally complete, at first glance it may seem easy to summarize that the results have been as anyone would have expected, with some hits and lows on every corner. Well that is until the streaming platform decided to drop British director Remi Weekes‘ first feature, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, making a statement on how they had reserved their scary best for last.
Like most I too initially knew very little about this one other than glimpse its trailer provided last week, but beyond that my knowledge about its actual content was sorely lacking. Hence, I had few expectations going in, and surprisingly I came out the other side feeling suitably terrified and moved. As this is a well-directed, carefully considered piece, which isn’t afraid to talk about a contentious subject matter, while also offering some horrifying entertainment.
Though the film does not have any popular names attached to it, expect for British actor Matt Smith who appears in a small supporting role, the film manages to finds its success in its familiar premise, which paired with the timeliness of its message, will prove potent for its curious viewers, who will not only lap up director Remi Weekes’ exposure of the horrors of the immigration system, but also how confidently he mines survivor guilt in the form of a clever, bone-chilling thriller.
By the end of its 90 minute run time, I had been shocked, terrified, and left despondent.
The story follows Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), a young couple, who as refugees fled war-torn south Sudan with their daughter, Nyagak (Malaika Abigaba). To escape, they first board the packed flatbed of a pickup truck, then brave storm-torn waters on an overstuffed motorboat. Though they survive the treacherous crossing, their daughter and many others do not.
Three months later, after an extended stay in Britain’s refugee facility, they are extremely happy to be granted asylum on probation and are left to deal with unthinkable trauma in an unfamiliar new land. Assigned a dilapidated old house, under the supervision of their social worker, Mark (Matt Smith), on the outskirts of London, the couple are expected to start fresh away from the horrors they witnessed.
But shortly after they move in, the couple realizes there is something else in the house; something creeping through the walls, determined to make their new life unbearable.
While the film seems to be centered on dark forces, it is main focus remains on the human side of the story, and has much to say about grief, guilt, assimilation and the on-going refugee crisis. As such, it balances supernatural shocks with real-world horror and the end result is a modern day ghost story.
Yes, director Remi Weekes‘ debut feature is astonishingly good and brings a thoughtful and purposeful layer to the horror genre. He is always aware that his characters are front and center and that the scares and mysteries are just the wallpaper.
Part of its charm, and ultimately a major reason behind its success, is how confidently director Remi Weekes is able to switch between genres and tone. Though, the film appears destined to be a solid but somewhat obvious horror narrative, he surprises us with his ingenuity and the depth of his themes.
The film is deliciously scary, it is also a rich character study, as he is not only showing is us the struggle of the couple inside the haunted house, but also the characters within.
From the first scene itself, you sense the tension in the film. As it proceeds ahead, the tension grows with eerie set up in the house. Bol loves the new change and new life in England. When he’s out, he tries to adapt to the lifestyle and completely forgetting the past. However, Rial sees everything the way it is. Rial gets bullied for not ‘belonging’ there; and unlike her husband, she isn’t in denial of what has happened and what’s happening in the house. Every person has their ways of dealing with traumas. Bol was in denial and his wife let the pain and loss soak into her mind. And in addition to the haunting in their new house, the couple is willing to put up with casual racism, too.
It is only when the film enters its third act, and we’re shown flashbacks to Rial and Bol’s life in South Sudan, that the film transcends the trappings of its genre and evolves into something more meaningful, and ultimately, more memorable.
The film also has its share of effective horror sequences, with angry spirits predictably coming out at night, but as plot twists and new information come to light, director Remi Weekes turns up the intensity. The reason why the jump scares work here are because they are shrouded with a layer of believability, and regularly raises the human stakes. So even though you might expect a spirit to pop out at any moment, it’s effective because the film has already planted the presence of a dead daughter in your subconscious.
It also helps that both Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku bring in excellent emotional performances. Mosaku carries much of the weight of the film, and this newcomer is incredibly impressive. Dirisu, who was mightily impressive in HBO‘s Lovecraft Country, cements her acting chops and is set to be a star in the making. In a smaller role, Matt Smith has nothing much to do here. On the whole, ‘His House’ is a thought provoking British horror that is both harrowing and intelligent.
Directed – Remi Weekes
Rated – R
Run Time – 90 minutes