When Bol (Sope Dirisu) and his wife Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) arrive in England for the first time, they are coldly greeted by a board of gloomy detention custody officers who offer them a dreary congratulations as they’re released into the country on bail as asylum seekers. Fleeing from their home in South Sudan, Bol and Rial have just finished an arduous and traumatic journey which involved losing their daughter Nyagak (Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba) when their boat capsized crossing the channel. Now, sitting in a detention centre, Bol and Rial are read a list of conditions they must live under (they face deportation if they break any of them) – they must not fail to attend their weekly meetings with their case officer, they must not seek work to supplement their measly allowance of £74 a week, and finally, they must not move from the house the government has assigned to them. However, things turn for the worse for the pair when their government-issued home turns out to be haunted by a malicious and unforgiving supernatural force. The feature debut of director Remi Weekes, His House is a fantastic emblem of British horror as Weekes digs deep to use the grisly, gory, and gruesome dimensions of horror to characterise the painful suppression of PTSD, the struggle to assimilate, and haunting survivor’s guilt.
Photo © Netflix
The house in mention is a drab-looking 60s-build riddled with damp located in the middle of a council estate. When Bol and Rial are being shown around by their case officer, Mark (Matt Smith), their list of do’s and do not’s only grows – no pets, no candles, no parties, no friends over, no ball games. They’re told to ‘be one of the good ones’ – a grim reference to the idea that all immigrants are inherently ‘bad’ until they have proven their worth; to which only then can they be treated like human beings. A theme dotted throughout the film as Bol and Rial navigate the bleak loneliness that comes with starting over in a country so vastly different from your own.
What seems like a decent new start for the couple soon turns drastically dark as the very house they live in comes to life. Hushed hums and whispers begin to vibrate through the gaping holes in the walls; spewing out choruses of laughter, gunshots, and screams from Bol and Rial’s past. Convinced they have been cursed, Rial swears that a witch has followed them from their home country – known as an ‘Apeth’ in South Sudan. The Apeth sinks its teeth into the house, conjuring up gut-wrenching hallucinations of their drowning daughter, zombie-like figures roaming their home, and a terrifying creature that claws its way up through the kitchen floor. Using the horror genre to envision the unspeakable experiences of refugees fleeing war-torn countries, Weekes takes the haunted house trope and spins it into a commanding visual and sensory manifestation of trauma. Crafting stunning cinematography and a spine-chilling soundscape, His House is a deeply unnerving as well as profoundly saddening tale as Weekes unravels the harrowing memories that haunt Bol and Rial.
Photo © Netflix
Despite the bloodcurdling and relentless spirit haunting his home, Bol is determined to soldier on and cement his and Rial’s life in England. Night after night Bol tears down wallpaper and swings hammers into the brickwork, desperate to claim his house as his own – ‘this is my house!’ he screams at the walls. Convinced that the only way to rid their home of the spirit is to destroy everything from their past, Bol sets all of his and Rial’s possessions from their home country on fire; their daughter’s doll, their clothes – everything but their daughter’s precious necklace that still dangles around Rial’s neck. For Bol, and many other refugees, assimilation is survival. He replaces their clothes with what the models in the shops wear, joins in with football chants down his local pub, and makes Rial use cutlery to fit in– ‘all I can taste is metal’ she protests. Yet still, these efforts are not enough to defeat the beast lurking in between their floorboards. When Bol goes to Mark for help and to find another home, he’s received with scoffs of disbelief and offence. Instead of aiding Bol, Mark talks to him about ‘adapting’ and warns him about ‘biting the hand that feeds you’; a slimy response that sums up a level of apathy and hostility held towards refugees tied up in Britain’s immigration systems.
Driven by two magnificent performances by Dirisu and Mosaku, Bol and Rial’s navigation of loneliness, grief, and guilt are superbly portrayed by the magnetic duo – helping to anchor the film down with an undeniable realism. His House is an unflinching portrait that blends very real experiences of refugee trauma with spine-chilling flecks of supernatural horror, resulting in a profoundly intelligent horror and an outstanding debut from a promising director.
Written by Abi Aherne
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