His House

Chills All The Way

By Syeda Maham Rasheed | December 2020

His House

Directed by British writer-director Remi Weekes, ‘His House’ is about a young refugee couple who makes a harrowing escape from war-torn South Sudan and survives the sea crossing that took their daughter’s life. The two struggle to adjust to their new life in a small town in England that has an unspeakable evil lurking beneath the surface. The film premiered at Sundance earlier this year and is now available on Netflix.

It begins on a clever premise showcasing the immigrant experience that later expands in unexpected ways. Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) are two immigrants who escape South Sudan in an unexpected turn of events and get asylum in England. While Bol wants to start his new life here, Rial wants to go back to her native land as their daughter Nyagak (Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba) is no longer with them. Hence, the parents are filled with guilt of losing their only daughter.

After getting an immigration permit, their case worker Mark (Matt Smith) places the couple in a house with peeling wallpapers where they are welcomed by open wires and roaches. He urges them to get along with the people in town and to be the good ones in the locality. The couple confronts the rigours of their new lives as political refugees as they are reminded of this more than once. While an unfriendly neighbour observes Bol from her window, three schoolboys taunt Rial to go back to Africa.

The hardship doesn’t end here as noises from within the walls that often take bodily forms haunt them. The ghostly visions remind them of their tragic journey on the ocean. No matter how much they try to fit in, they find it hard to live in their new house as they are allowed nothing. No guests, no friends and no work to make a living. And as they are the only immigrant couple on the block, even the local black residents poke fun at their accent.

Weekes combines elements that are fresh and familiar to create both a story of immigration and an unsettling old-fashioned tale of a haunting house. It is indeed a confident and compelling statement of intent from a young and ambitious film-maker who consistently finds new ways to present the characters.

Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku’s performances as Bol and Rial as lead characters in the film are convincing in their own way. While Bol pursues the sounds and looks in the holes to confront what is there as he wants to make this his future house, Rial showcases grief and fear as resignation to the fact that something is haunting them. She believes they have been cursed. Her facial expressions prove to be the film’s best part. Bol acts as a maniac like someone from ‘The Shining’ who is driven mad by his surroundings to fit into this new life in England. However, Rial, by contrast, is relatively composed.

The film’s most brilliant scene shows Bol visiting Mark and asking him to be moved to an estate that is free of exorcism activities. Little does he know that the authorities are looking for any excuse to deny someone a home. The desperate humanity of these moments stands in sharp contrast tothe numbing and increasingly complex delusions that Bol suffers in his house.

Overall, ‘His House’ is a masterpiece as its scares are effective. The terrors of the house are interwoven with the terrors of the refugee experience which lends the story emotional depth and also ensures that its effect lingers.

From a first-time writer-director, it is remarkable to witness a story that is very much unique because just when you think that you are beginning to understand the story and the traumas of the characters, the film takes an unexpected turn casting one of its protagonists in a different light.

These days, it is difficult to find a good film with a genuine storyline, ‘His House’ includes all. It is a relief to watch a horror film where the filmmakers have given as much thought to what will scare the viewer as to the story of the film. Watch it for the chills as it will leave you with wounds that won’t heal.