October 30, 2020 His House (Movie Review)
Be afraid of the dark! Something wicked lurks in the shadows in the new Netflix Original His House, which premieres on Netflix on Friday, October 30, 2020.
His House marks the feature debut of Director Remi Weekes (Exhale short 2009, Fright Bites mini-series), who co-wrote the screenplay with Felicity Evans (Percival short 2020) and Tony Venables (Percival short 2020). This is the story of a couple—Bol (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù: Humans series, Gangs of London series) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaka: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2016, Lovecraft Country series)—who barely escapes war torn South Sudan in hopes of making a better life for themselves in England.
But the ghosts of our past are not so easily evaded. Not long after the couple’s social worker (Matt Smith: Doctor Who series, The Crown series) places them into a dilapidated home, Bol finds himself awakening in the wee hours of the night; the sound of someone singing fills the home, along with footsteps, and there appears to be something living inside the walls. When the grungy old wallpaper begins to slough off the walls, he discovers a series of gaping holes and it’s not long before full-bodied apparitions follow. As his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, Rial, who is less afraid of ghosts than she is of people, concludes that he owes a debt—but to what?
His House is an intriguing Supernatural Thriller that provides a commentary on the lives of those who seek asylum, and what they must give up to find peace in a new land. In the story, Dìrísù’s Bol chases expedient assimilation: he wants to forget the past, build a family and a career, and thrive in the UK. Rial, however, is unable to escape what she has left behind in South Sudan, and experiences survivor’s guilt at having managed to escape unharmed when so many did not. She is also haunted by the loss of her daughter, Nyagak (Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba).
For Bol, a former banker, they have been “born again,” and have the chance to do it all over and live a happy life. But Rial sees the reality of their struggles: feeling disoriented while trying to complete simple tasks, being harassed for falling back on her native language when nervous or confused, and, even when people are trying to be kind, they do not understand the amount of suffering that she has seen. For this, she is hesitant, a woman living with one foot in the past and the other in the future as Bol tries to drag her along with him.
This is all told through a tale that is fast-paced and eerie from the outset. All the hallmarks of a traditional haunting are present, from doors opening themselves to candles blowing themselves out to noises in the walls. While this aspect of the story is taken to the extreme, and ultimately dips into the folklore, the film never manages to cross that boundary into frightening, as the true horrors of His House are in the couple’s past.
A well-done movie, it features a wonderful original score from the exceptional Roque Baños (Evil Dead 2013, Don’t Breathe 2016), stellar cinematography from the equally talented Jo Willems (Hard Candy 2005, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1 & 2), as well as magnificent acting. Key to setting the creepy mood and disturbing its viewers, the always exceptional Javier Botet (It 2017, Mara 2018) is appropriately creepy. But this is really a narrative that is carried by its two stars, Dìrísù and Mosaka. Charged with portraying a man on the edge, trying desperately to hold it together, Dìrísù is outstanding. He ably delivers in his role, communicating the enthusiasm of a man who believes he can fully start over in a new country and who desperately wants to forget the past.
Playing off this, Mosaka is graceful in her portrayal of Rial, who provides much of the film’s heavy emotion. A woman who is struggling with remorse and weary of the idea of wiping the slate clean, she elegantly brings the harsh realities of being a refugee to the screen. She begs for our empathy as she stands proud while boys taunt her character to “Go back to Africa,” which breaks the heart, and it is a sadly too realistic depiction of a refugee’s life. As the conflicted outsiders, Dìrísù’s Bol is desperate to be English, but Mosaka’s Rial is desperate not to forget her roots and those that died so that she might live.
All of this said, what you take away from His House is likely a mirror of who you are going in. Those that seek only an unnerving Halloween-worthy experience will enjoy the film’s folklore and supernatural elements, while those that are too empathetic to see beyond the real horrors are likely to walk away feeling emotional. It is a haunting reminder that this is the reality for so many couples across the globe, and they are considered to be the “lucky” ones. Sure, most of them aren’t battling the supernatural, but we still see the corollaries. For this, Cryptic Rock gives His House 4 of 5 stars.