Remy Weekes’ haunting debut elegantly balances bone-chilling atmosphere with more socially relevant scares.
Where do you go when you can’t go home? Bol (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) are refugees who’ve fled South Sudan, looking to start a new life in London. The journey has not been easy: in transit, the couple lost their daughter, Nyagak.
Yet their future seems bright. As the pair promise they are “good” immigrants, Bol and Rial are given a house by the British government – one they’re told they must occupy, while living off a meager weekly allowance. After all, as the authorities gladly remind them, they can’t move or get jobs, because they’re not citizens.
So Bol and Rial move into their fixer-upper. At least it’s spacious, even if the lights flicker and the wallpaper’s peeling. But the real problem arrives a few days later: something else is in the house. Something Bol and Rial seem to have brought with them.
Bol is quick to fight the spirit, to deny its existence and the threat it poses to his assimilation. Rial, on the other hand, has no problem conversing with the entity, accepting its presence and place in their lives. “I survived by belonging nowhere” she tells a nurse – but Bol is tired of transience. He’s ready to belong in England, supernatural forces be damned.
In his debut feature, writer-director Remy Weekes dramatizes the tensions of assimilation through the haunted-house movie. His film walks a fine line, successfully; this isn’t one of those horror movies that’s so up its own ass that it forgets to be a horror movie, while Weekes works out some pretty deep questions around national identity. How much should Bol and Rial change to fit into their new society? Were the choices they made to reach this racist, hegemonic landscape worth it?
Like fellow Netflix social thriller Cam, at ninety minutes, His House is as tight as it is tense. The creature manipulating the refugees has all manner of tricks up its invisible sleeve – nothing too out of the box for the genre’s aficionados, but well-staged and compelling scares for sure.
Out of the thick atmosphere of the rotting house, Bol is tormented and terrified by visions of ghosts and objects he hopes to have discarded. He’s determined to leave the past in the past, the specter in his way an apt metaphor for a past immigration cannot erase.
His House is as tight as it is tense.
Weekes’ brilliant paradox is that Bol can’t leave his house either, not without facing deportation. Try as he might to explain the situation to a well-meaning caseworker (Matt Smith), Bol is told to stay put. The white gaze he and his wife face outside is as dangerous – more dangerous – than the threat indoors. Better to stay in the haunted home than get sent back to the very warzone they just escaped.
All this to say Weekes has crafted a smart and special movie, all the more impressive considering this is his very first feature. He’s not afraid to lean into the subjectivity of his material, best illustrated during an unforgettable dinner sequence (that said, he is prone to some unnecessary camera spins).
Weekes’ collaborators measure up too: the whole cast turns in great performances. I was particularly partial to Dìrísù – he’s stubborn yet sympathetic, simultaneously endearing and misguided. If you’re looking for a great scary movie this Halloween, look no further – thanks to Netflix, you don’t even have to leave home to see it.
His House hit Netflix October 30th.