From one hell to the next – in the Netflix horror film HIS HOUSE A couple flees their homeland, which is plagued by war and ruin, and promptly ends up in a haunted house. Director Remi Weekes skillfully manages to combine these two themes. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: His House (UK 2020)
Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) are refugees fleeing war-torn South Sudan with their daughter Nyagak. To cross the Mediterranean, they brave stormy waters on an overcrowded motorboat alongside other Africans crossing the dangerous open sea in search of a better life in Europe. Bol and Rial make it to the UK. Not your daughter. Nevertheless, the couple wants to make a new start here and receives “trial asylum”. In a shabby house provided by the government, the two try to adapt to their new surroundings. But something terrible lives in the walls that drives her crazy at night and crazy during the day.
The author and director couple Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz recently showed us how difficult it is to direct socially relevant genre cinema. Her feature film debut “Antebellum” took on the slave issue as part of a half-baked horror plot, but failed spectacularly due to the ambitions of the makers. Not everyone is a Jordan Peele, who began three years ago with “Get Out” to make the horror genre (again) attractive to the Black community in the United States. This was followed by a few copycats and the temptation to automatically compare any horror film with an African-American protagonist to the Peele works. In the case of “His House,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival but subsequently failed to find a theatrical distribution and is therefore now being released worldwide via Netflix, this comparison is unavoidable, especially since director Remi Weekes largely stands up to it. Just like for Peele the topic of everyday racism, for Weekes the refugee topic is not just a narrative gimmick, but is treated in a slightly different way as part of a really nasty horror shocker that has a noticeable urgency.
Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) and Bol (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù) hope to settle in Great Britain.
“His House” would be an ideal candidate for so-called sneak previews. In these surprise premieres, viewers are shown a film long before it opens in theaters for a fraction of the regular ticket price, without knowing in advance which one it will be. If the first scenes of “His House” were to flicker across the screen in such a sneak preview, the audience would probably prepare for a classic refugee drama in the next second: the protagonist couple Bol and Rial are in a kind of reception camp for refugees and are waiting there to the news that they would be granted asylum in Great Britain. A few scenes later the time has come – or at least almost. Because asylum is only available for the two of them on a “trial basis”. During this time, the two of them have to prove themselves by adapting to their new home, not attracting attention, and they aren’t even allowed to work. Instead, they repair the demolished house entrusted to them, in which they can live from now on, despite the precarious circumstances. Scenes like this, in which their caretaker tells them several times that Bol and Rial’s new house is even bigger than his own, which is why they shouldn’t complain about the fact that the floor is dilapidated, the heating is broken and the walls are crumbling the balance of power is clear: Bol and Rial should first and foremost be grateful. For the fact that they have a roof over their heads from now on. Any move beyond this seems undesirable; Even as a distant viewer, you get a sense of how the two were deprived of their personality status through their escape – Bol and Rial are now just “the refugees”.
“Even as a distant viewer, you get a sense of how the two of them were deprived of their personality status through their escape – from now on Bol and Rial are just “the refugees”.”
Openly lived discrimination, the difficulties in adapting to a new culture despite good intentions and the trauma caused by the escape give “His House” a feeling of oppression and sadness; its genre origins as a horror film have not yet become noticeable. It is particularly the last of the three aspects mentioned on which the horror here is based. Remi Weekes, who was also responsible for the script, illustrates Bol and Rial’s inner demons, their ghosts of the past and the terrible escape experiences using the means of genre cinema – it’s never particularly subtle. The image compositions in which the refugee drama and the haunted house horror cinema come together here are both haunting and morbidly beautiful (the film poster in which the couple sits at the kitchen table while the open sea slowly emerges around them, through which the two fled to Great Britain already indicates the director’s stylistic desire). At the same time, “His House” is riddled with jump scares. Those that never miss their impact, that don’t stand out because of the detailed structure of each scene, but rather because of their pace and intensity. And every now and then the makers even find the opportunity to give predictable shock moments an unpredictable twist or two with the help of carefully chosen camera angles or changes of direction.
Rial suspects what is happening in her house…
After about half of the film it is clear who or what Bol and Rial are dealing with in “His House”. Remi Weekes plays with her cards open much earlier than is often the case in haunted house horror films. But anyone who fears that “His House” will have to run out of steam relatively quickly is wrong. The film’s great strength is its even division into horror and drama aspects. As effective as the shock moments may be – both in getting the audience’s pulse racing and in illustrating the psychological state of the protagonists – the premise itself is very grounding. Just because you know at some point what kind of evil force you’re dealing with, the torment for the characters (and therefore also for the audience) is far from over. And at the latest when finally all Even though the background to the escape has been clarified, these findings are tens of times worse than the origin of the evil in the walls. In the end, the makers can take the liberty of escalating in the same way as their colleagues from “Conjuring”, “Insidious” and Co. – and unfortunately this is also where most of the weaknesses can be identified, because “His House” doesn’t need anything on a narrative level such a hysterical finale, it still makes sense to invest the already low budget into only moderately successful CGI creatures. Since the actual basic idea behind “His House” is remembered less for its shock value than for its psychological and emotional aspects, those responsible are selling their film massively short here.
“After about half of the film it is clear who or what Bol and Rial will have to do with in “His House”. Remi Weekes plays with his cards open much earlier than is often the case in haunted house horror cinema.”
Meanwhile, the two main actors don’t sell themselves short at all. Sope Dirisu (“Gangs of London”) and Wunmi Mosaku (“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) She does an excellent job of internalizing all aspects of her complex roles. Not only does both of them always have believable fear and later rebellion written all over their faces. The two are also fighting their own culture clash – while he tries to adapt, she insists on the traditions of her home country. “His House” not only illustrates the difficulties of getting used to a foreign place, but also the conflicts that arise when everyone tries to find their own approaches to it.
Conclusion: In “His House” a refugee drama collides with a tough haunted house shocker. Although the makers sell their film short towards the end, their plan for a genre clash works brilliantly. Both elements reinforce each other and also create some great image compositions.
“His House” is now available on Netflix.