Directed by Remi Weekes — Screenplay by Remi Weekes — Story by Felicity Evans & Toby Venables.
Every once in a while, you find yourself watching a feature-length debut that knocks you sideways and reminds you of just how magical debut films can be. Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow was that kind of film and I think that Remi Weekes’ feature-length debut film, His House, is equally good. Weekes’ film has been released very close to Halloween 2020, and, even though the subject matter is not a classic horror story, the film is designed to fit into a classic horror movie subgenre. This is a brilliant haunted house flick.
Remi Weekes’ His House follows two South Sudanese refugees, Bol (played by Sope Dirisu) and his wife Rial (played by Wunmi Mosaku), who, on their way to the United Kingdom, lost their daughter and other countrymen on the dangerous open sea. Now in Northern Europe, they hope to be given the chance to start a new life in England. Eventually, Bol and Rial are given that chance in a shabby but relatively large house in the vicinity of London. While trying to adapt to their new lives, Bol and Rial are pulled in different directions, while ghostly figures make their presence known at night. Perhaps these two South Sudanese refugees are cursed.
While I really liked the film, Weekes’ film is not entirely unpredictable. While the exact details of the story, or rather the main characters’ background, definitely are not, the film’s narrative arc is perhaps a bit obvious. The scenes where Brits of different ages insisted that the refugees return back to their home countries were infuriating but, sadly, expected. This is a film about asylum seekers and the horrors that they have to go through, and I thought it was gripping from start to finish, even though some scenes towards the end of the film ran a little bit too long for my liking.
I was, frankly, impressed with the sequence in which Mosaku’s character was lost in her new country, which had become like a maze. The same can be said for the scene in which a female doctor tried to give a compliment to Mosaku’s character but inadvertently triggered a memory for Rial that illustrated just how oblivious one can be to other cultures. Dirisu’s character experiences something different in Britain. Whereas Rial feels an instant cold in her new country, Bol meets nice Brits who introduce him to the English Premier League and even a song about Peter Crouch. These scenes do a good job of showcasing how difficult it can be to assimilate into a new culture, and, in general, the film does a solid job of showing that your experience will vary based on the people you encounter. I also have to say that I thought the very last shot of the film was very clever and affecting.
But this a horror film, and I think it is a pretty great one at that. In a way, the film balances on a narrative tight-rope since it has to both horrify you with ghostly images while, at least at first, indicating that these scenes may or may not be nightmares induced by post-traumatic stress or the like. While I won’t go into exactly what is happening in these scenes, I will say that I thought Weekes successfully created these very tense scenes. Frankly, I think there are several startling and memorable scenes here that made it a legitimately scary movie. The film, in a sense, borrows a few scenes from David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out and uses them to great effect, and the film is equally disturbing when you see something moving in the background of a shot.
It is a film about guilt, shared trauma, and a distinct lack of belongingness, and I think Weekes and his actors communicate all of this very well. I thought the film was sharply written in the scenes with Matt Smith’s character ‘Mark’ and his co-workers, who all tend to utter sentences that are prejudicial even though it’s somewhat clear that these characters don’t always realize how harmful they are. Smith is fine but, frankly, not in many scenes. This is Mosaku and Dirisu’s show, and they are both excellent here. This year has been particularly great for Mosaku, who also made memorable appearances in the HBO-show Lovecraft Country.
Remi Weekes’ feature-length directorial debut is extremely promising. Weekes, Evans, and Venables have breathed new life into a well-trodden subgenre with this original and inspired interpretation of a haunted house film. Remi Weekes’ His House is unsettling and shocking, and it is one of the better films that Netflix has released this year.
8 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.