His House Review
Sitting in the doctor’s office giving a blood sample, Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) responds to a question about the markings on her arm: “I made these myself with a knife,” she says to a quietly stunned GP. “There are two tribes where I’m from. They’re both killing each other. Depending on which one you belong to you mark yourself. I marked myself with both. I survived by belonging nowhere.” That sense of displacement lingers throughout writer-director Remi Weekes’ impressive debut His House, telling the story of a husband and wife living in a physical and mental limbo having escaped their war-torn home in south Sudan.
While Rial and Bol (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) have made it to the relative safety of a rundown council home in the Essex suburbs, the trauma of their journey still haunts them. Given a long list of 'don't do’s' by their caseworker Mark (Matt Smith) they are as close to house arrest as you can be without having an electronic tag strapped to their ankles. Bol is eager to assimilate to life in England – he pops down to the pub and sings Peter Crouch songs with the locals and wants to eat dinner at the table with a knife and fork - but Rial is more suspicious of her new surroundings. Even when asking a group of Black school boys for help with directions she finds there are few boundaries for xenophobia in the UK.
There should be three people living in the home, but their daughter, Nyagak (Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba), was claimed by the ocean on the perilous journey across. The details of the crossing are revealed late into the story, long after it seems that their new home is haunted, with silent whispers in the dark, mysterious noises clanking behind the living room wall and dead souls seeming to come alive during the night (not to mention their odd looking neighbour). We start the film with Bol awakening from a nightmare, so for a while can’t be sure what is and isn’t real, but their cold treatment by the asylum system most definitely is, and being caught between cultures offers enough psychological torment all of its own.
Led by two deeply empathetic performances by Mosaku and Dìrísù (both are great, but Mosaku in particular really holds the screen with her eyes) His House draws on influences from the likes of Night of the Living Dead and Don’t Look Now, both in terms of embedding social and political themes and the scare tactics deployed by Weekes. Both literal and suggestive horror are effectively utilised, with the former at times on the verge of losing its potency, but Weekes shows good judgement and restraint to know when to stop and move on.
Sudanese folklore sits at the heart of the Bol and Rial’s story, Weekes’ love of TV soap operas shown on the likes of Africa Magic also coming to the fore to create a refreshing spin on the haunted house subgenre. Night witches, or apeths, as they are referred to here, conjure up shapeshifting entities that sound as terrifying as they look. There’s some good work in the design and make-up departments here, further complemented by crisp photography from Jo Willems (who also worked on the Hunger Games trilogy).
As one half of production outfit Tell No One, Weekes had already made a name for himself at industry level, but His House introduces his talent to a wider audience with assured composure. He strikes the right balance between the emotional and psychological, stepping into dramatic, comedic and horror territories to handle the demands of each with real confidence, and offers a healthy reminder that a house can only be a home when your own spirit is at peace.
His House is available to watch on Netflix from October 30.