“Be one of the good ones.”
It sounds like a nice thing, but what it means is “don’t make trouble. Don’t make work for me.” This is the Britain that Bol and Rial arrive in, and the line they hear from Mark, the man in charge of their asylum status. Having arrived from Sudan, a country ripped apart by tribal civil war, the run-down council house they are given to stay in looks like a mansion. Nevermind the bugs, the rats, the barely functioning electrics, or the smell (“just open the window and let it air out” Mark says).
There’s little that might phase them though, having crossed two contents and a stormy ocean that claimed the life of their daughter. The cold attitude of the social workers charged with helping them is the least intimidating thing they have faced, but it’s also one of the more horrifying things in the film. It’s hard to believe that casting the immigrant experience as a horror film isn’t a well-worn trope at this point because it’s so terrifying, even when you consider the ghosts that have followed them from home.
Director Remi Weekes has created something special here. Not perfect, but special all the same. His House is his Weekes first feature, which is shocking given how effective it is. While the immigration system of the UK is certainly a daunting entity to take on, Weekes takes the smarter route of not using that entity for big scares. That’s not to say that it isn’t scary, it’s to say that rather than being a malevolent entity out to get them, it’s one that doesn’t care.
There are two absolutely terrifying scenes in the movie, and one of them takes place with Bol sitting in his social workers’ office begging for a new place to stay. It’s not terrifying because the social workers know the house is haunted or vermin-infested and want to torture him, it’s because they know the conditions and they are resigned to them. The system isn’t designed to hurt asylum seekers, or help them, just to process them.
The other terrifying scene takes place in the home. As it turns out the ghosts of Bol and Rials past are figurative, but they’re also quite literal.
Bol and Rial are being haunted by a witch, a malevolent spirit to whom they have incurred a debt. It lives in their walls and torments them in the dark, which leads to some super creepy imagery and that terrifying scene I mentioned, which involves a light switch.
Stars Wunmi Mosaku (who is having a big year, also starring in HBO’s Lovecraft Country and recently being cast in the upcoming Disney+ series Loki) and Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù (Gangs of London) as Rial and Bol respectively are both excellent in their roles. Dìrísù, in particular, affects the desperation of a man running from his past and in denial of his present so potently that when it all comes crashing down, it’s impossible not to sympathize with him. Matt Smith rounds out the cast as Mark, the pair’s social worker, who seems to be the only person who might once have cared about them if he wasn’t so ground down by the system he is the face of.
For added fun, the makeup and special effects in the nighttime scenes are chilling and combined with excellent camera work create some super effective scares.
His House isn’t a perfect film, there are a few story points I found muddled and some other minor issues, but it’s also a hell of a first feature and features two great performances. This is a good movie, and I am excited to see what everyone involved does next.
‘His House’ will be streaming globally on Netflix on October 30th.