'His House' Finds Horror in the Refugee Experience

Directed by Remi Weekes

Starring Wunmi Mosaku, Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù, Matt Smith

Photo: Aidan Monaghan / Netflix

BY Alex HudsonPublished Nov 2, 2020

For anyone who spent October watching horror movies, Netflix saved the best for last, releasing His House on Halloween weekend and offering a chilling account of a refugee family trying to start a new life in England.

Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) and Bol (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù) have fled violence in South Sudan, and the movie begins with the couple dealing with their new country's intimidating, slightly callous bureaucracy. Still, their application for refugee status is successful, and they are set up with a fairly spacious home of their own. There are cockroaches and unpleasant neighbours, but it's a half-decent setup — and Rial and Bol are constantly told how lucky they are by their patronizing caseworker Mark (Matt Smith).

The move doesn't go smoothly. Rial and Bol grapple with grief over the loss of their daughter Nyagak (Malaika Abigaba), who died on the journey across the Mediterranean, and they struggle with both the trauma of their past and their unwelcoming new neighbourhood. They clash over how to adapt to English life: Rial is keen to cling onto elements of their Dinka culture, but Bol favours complete assimilation, and he encourages them to eat with a knife and fork and wear fast fashion from a Primark-type store. During one particularly gripping moment, Bol sits on the bed and is torn between laughter and crying — a brilliant bit of acting from Dirisu that wordlessly captures both his relief and anxiety at being in a new country.

The real-life horrors they have experienced soon turn supernatural: they hear footsteps and whispered voices in their house, and there seems to be something sinister lurking behind the living room wall. Bol investigates, first with a wallpaper scraper and then with a hammer, making a mess of their new home. Unlike traditional haunted house movies — which tend to take place in gothic manors and rural estates — His House reimagines the genre within dingy social housing.

If this were a straightforward metaphor about the horrors of racism and immigration in Brexit-era Britain, that would be more than enough for an exciting, socially relevant horror film. But His House digs even deeper; revelations in the second half show that Rial and Bol aren't mere victims of circumstance, and audience expectations get turned on their head in surprising ways. This isn't a film of easy answers or unambiguous morality, making it a very nuanced feature debut from writer-director Remi Weekes. It's a supernatural scare-fest that, most terrifyingly, feels rooted in reality.

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