It’s been a great year for horror debuts. Following Saint Maud and Relic comes His House – another supremely confident film from a first-time director, and another grown-up horror that pushes the genre in a brave new direction.
Just as Rose Glass and Natalie Erika James hid real-world terrors behind their jump-scares, director Remi Weekes takes on the trauma of the refugee experience – making an old-fashioned haunted house movie about Sudanese ethnic cleansing, asylum seekers and ‘Broken Britain’.
Bol (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù, Gangs Of London) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku, The End Of The F***ing World) arrive in England thinking the worst is behind them. They’ve escaped tribal violence in South Sudan, made it across the sea in a capsized boat and survived months in a detention centre awaiting asylum status. Processed by a panel of case workers, they’re spat out in the middle of an unwelcoming city and given the keys to a depressing-looking squat in the middle of an estate.
As soon as the front door shuts, Bol and Rial realise that they’ve dragged the horror of Sudan to England with them, or maybe it’s just that it exists here too – peering sadly out of dirty windows and lost in an unfamiliar labyrinth of city tower blocks. The lights don’t work, shadows seem to move on their own and there are weird noises coming from holes in the walls, but it doesn’t take long for creeping dread to turn to full-blown terror as the couple start seeing the faces from their past – dead children, butchered families and drowned friends – all literally climbing out the walls to get them. Is it just PTSD or the curse of a vengeful African witch?
It’s a neat way of dealing with old horror tropes – cutting the electricity because the characters can’t afford it, putting them in an awful building because that’s the only choice, and telling them they can’t leave because the government has threatened them with deportation if they try. Neater still is the way Weekes uses monster shocks to smuggle in the film’s real horror story – an all too familiar tale of human rights abuses, over-crowded refugee boats and a failing British social care system. Zombies and demons are pretty scary, but they’re nothing to having to live on just £74 a week and being told that you’ll be sent back to a warzone if you try and earn your own money.
As the horror ramps up, some of the subtlety gets pushed aside. There’s a more nuanced horror hiding in the quieter moments when Bol forces himself to try and make friends in the pub, or when Rial encounters her first gob of racism from the estate kids – but the story Weekes wants to tell hasn’t got time for dithering. Things get scary quickly, and His House packs in some of the most unsettling horror imagery for years.
Matt Smith keeps respectfully low-key as the council worker assigned to keep an eye on Bol and Rial, but Dìrísù and Mosaku both excel as the crumbling couple still trying desperately to hang on to each other. As the film details more about their past, and what they did to try and escape it, both actors help anchor the mounting monster madness with genuine pain and sadness that never feels unearned.
Joining the likes of The Babadook (2014), Get Out (2017) and Atlantics (2019) in carving out a new sub-genre of socially conscious horror, His House manages to do something new and important. It tells a story that needs to be heard, but makes it scary enough so we feel the bite of it. Pretty impressive stuff from someone who’s never made a movie before.
- Director: Remi Weekes
- Starring: Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù, Wunmi Mosaku, Matt Smith
- Release date: October 30 (Netflix)