His House is a terrifying new-to-Netflix horror/thriller directorial debut by Remi Weekes, which received it’s premiere in pre-COVID times at Sundance Festival back in January.
Starring Wunmi Mosaku as Rial (most recently seen as Ruby in Lovecraft Country) and Sope Dirisu as husband Bol (Elliott in Gangs of London) the film plays out largely within the confines of the bleak house they have been placed in by the UK Government, following their escape across the seas from war-torn South Sudan.
The film opens with Bol and Rial in a UK detention centre, sharing a tiny room with one other refugee. They are soon told they have been given a home to live in, with an allowance of £74 per week, that they can’t move home, or work to supplement their income, having to report in weekly to the UK authorities. “We are good people” pleads Bol, as the pair are loaded into a white van and deposited in an unnamed and unknown part of the UK.
They are met by local case-worker Mark (Matt Smith) who repeatedly tells them how lucky they are to have such a large property to themselves, while they step over the discarded furniture strewn over the front lawn. As he shows them around the property he notes again how lucky they are, as the pair pick through the cockroach filled pizza boxes, and that the smell should disappear if they let some air in. Bol notes that he worked in a bank, giving a neat one line insight into the life the couple might have had before, one which did not feature pest-infestations and other people’s filth.
Over the coming days the couple both have flashbacks to their treacherous journey from Sudan, with visions of being plunged into the sea as they try to save their daughter, Nyagak from drowning along with scores of others. Rial has kept Nyaguk’s doll, removing some beads from it’s skirt to fashion herself a necklace. She is filled with quiet grief, a grief Bol is keen to move on from, wanting them to treat this life as a fresh start.
Bol is positive about the move and gets out into the local community quickly, being given a welcome box of supplies and joining in a singalong with locals watching the football. Rial, meanwhile finds their unknown UK location more of a challenge, choosing instead to spend her days indoors in the dank house and away from the seemingly unfriendly locals. Indeed, one of the most terrifying sequences in the film comes as she tries to find her way to the doctor’s office, through labyrinthine streets, accosted by children and met by racism and prejudice at every turn.
Soon the pair begin to suspect they are not alone in the dilapidated house, as mysterious voices start to emanate from holes in the walls and things start to move. The house itself comes to feel like a living entity as Rial declares they have been followed by an apeth, a night-witch, who will give them back Nyagak in exchange for blood. However they cannot leave the house as this will mean they could face deportation back to Sudan, so they are forced to stay living with the apeth.
As the horror ramps up both Mosaku and Dirisu put in incredible, nuanced performances of the type that make you yell “why aren’t more horror films recognised during awards season?” As the apeth begins to take hold of their lives, the pair reflect more on their journey to the UK, with the initially linear narrative becoming more fragmented as the line blurs between reality and fantasy. Dirisu conjures a world of emotion with just a twitch of his eyelid, betraying the fact his initial optimism was a mask for something more sinister.
His House brilliantly manages to balance gritty Ken Loach style realism with a more theatrical, Babadook-esque approach to horror, bringing a truly fresh approach to the genre. The scares come both through Rial and Bol’s lived experience and the dream-like sequences brought on by the apeth. For them there is no escape from the horror. The film also takes delight in playing with horror conventions, with one particularly effective scene featuring a light-switch turning everything you’ve seen about ghosts interaction with the light upside down. It plays equally well as an insight into the experience of refugees and a metaphysical horror, which is quite an achievement.
If you want your horror to be as much about the real world as the supernatural, then His House is the film for you, managing to bring gritty social realism together with a serving of supernatural scares.