Horror fans know that most horror movies recycle tropes constantly, so it’s really a nice surprise when a movie brings something new and interesting to the genre. This was my experience watching Netflix’s new horror film His House as the debut feature of Remi Weekes.
As the title suggests, this is a haunted house movie, but it doesn’t play out like you’d expect. Bol, played by Sope Dirisu (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) and Rial, played by Wunmi Mosaku (Lovecraft County, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) are a couple escaping the civil war of South Sudan to seek refuge in Britain. While traveling in a small, overcrowded boat across the ocean, the couple lose their daughter in the middle of a storm. After this, follows an exploration of grief from losing their daughter as well as their home, similar to films like Hereditary, but still distinct in style.
The film starts out with the couple in a detention center in Britain for three months, not knowing if the country will allow them to stay or send them back to their deaths. Luckily, the board overseeing them allows the couple to stay in a rundown house where they have little to no freedoms. They are assigned a case worker, Matt Smith (Doctor Who, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), who, while trying to help them, mostly stands as a threat that at any moment, if they step out of line, they can be kicked out of the country.
This lack of freedom and constant threat of being returned to Sudan, along with grieving over their daughter is the start of the horror of this story. Bol starts being haunted by the memory of his daughter, which he thinks is a ghost but Rial has a more intricate reading of it. Rial warns Bol that he may have summoned an Apeth, a night witch that lives in the houses of thieves, although we don’t find out until later what exactly that means.
This film has similar beats to other scary haunted house movies, so the scares start with the feeling that something is “off” about the house and some ghost encounters that haunt Bol. The ghostly visits are one aspect where this movie excels, as the Apeth, which first takes on the appearance of the couple’s daughter, is designed not supernaturally, but with the daughter dressed up in Sudanese clothes and wearing a horrifying African mask. The effect is both new and surprisingly scary.
The look of the film is excellent, often using deep, warm colors that contrast with the coldness of Britain. The house is horrific in many ways, but the production design that went into the house is impressively disgusting with slabs of the wallpaper falling off moldy walls as the characters watch it, and moldy food, trash, and bugs everywhere. This movie is not for clean freaks.
The film effectively weaves the horrors of the refugee crisis with a more traditional horror movie story, and does not simply use the situation to move along the plot. The couple’s story unfolds revealing levels of grief that affect them over time from their horrifying time staying at the detention center to their time living in a war zone seeing their friends and family killed as well as the guilt about the people they left behind.
This leads to tension between Bol and Rial. HIs solution is to completely forget about their old life, move on and assimilate into British life, while she wants to honor their heritage and work through their trauma together.
The film also deals with the horror of “being in a place where you don’t belong.” While the couple is thankful that they are away from the war, they have a litany of problems rising from their refugee status including neighbors threatening them and the fear that their case worker will throw them out because of the haunting and for not “being one of the good ones,” which is repeated to the couple multiple times throughout the film.
The acting between the two main characters, Dirisu and Mosaku, is both deep and affecting. Their love for each other can always be felt, even when they are also irritated with each other. They also accurately depict their shared trauma, grieving in different ways, from denial to catatonia.
I have absolutely no complaints about this movie. It will appeal to those who just want a spooky haunted house film and those looking for something a bit deeper and more focused on human grief. Overall, His House is an effectively scary tale of feeling like you don’t belong in the place you live with a sense of uniqueness to it. It will be exciting to see where Weekes goes next as a director. Check out the trailer below!