His House November 19, 2020
1 Hr., 33 Mins.
e will be new here,” Bol (Sope Dirisu), the protagonist of His House (2020), says to his wife, Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), early in the film. As the movie opens, Bol has recently arrived with his spouse in an unspecified part of London. He’s not looking for a new start as much as he is a full-on reset. The couple, Sudanese refugees, are shell-shocked. Memories of
war in their hometown gnaw at them, as do images of their harrowing escape. The boat on which they fled capsized — an event that resulted in the drowning death of their daughter and hordes of others.
When they’re granted probationary asylum in Britain a few months later, Bol is determined to leave the past behind. When out shopping for clothes at a nearby H&M one day, he looks carefully at a photo of smiling models plastered on the wall and meticulously picks out each item of clothing in the store they’re wearing so that he and Rial can create their own mirror image. Whenever Rial speaks to him in their native language, he demands she switch to English. Rial, in contrast, understandably can’t help but dwell in the past. She prefers to eat on the floor rather than at the kitchen table, like they did at home; she brushes against the new clothes Bol thinks she should wear and sticks with the ones she brought. The misalignment of what Bol and Rial want from their new lives starts to create fractures.
His House, the excellent feature-length debut from Remi Weekes (it premiered on Netflix last month), technically belongs to the haunted-house subgenre. When Bol and Rial’s asylum is granted, the nonprofit that takes them in homes them in a shoddy two-story on the city’s fringes. Even though it’s substandard, their probation officer, Mark (Matt Smith), notes that they’re lucky. Most people get a place way smaller, and with many more bodies squeezed into one abode.
Almost immediately after moving in, Bol and Rial don’t take notice of this supposed higher quality. They're bombarded by what seems to be the supernatural. Their ears are pelted by strange voices and sounds in the night; ostensible apparitions start materializing after a few days. But what becomes clear, after a while, is that this dingy place wasn’t sitting and waiting for Rial and Bol to come so that it could finally torment a new set of people. These apparent spirits creating all these bumps in the night came with Rial and Bol — an actualization of the idea that the more you try to smother your demons, the more aggressively they’re going to fight back. A little before the movie’s climax, we discover an additional ugly element undergirding Bol and Rial’s story, and it casts them in a different light.
His House’s union of supernatural and real-world horrors is for the most part seamless — they feed each other. Weekes comfortably crafts drawn-out, darkly lit scenes of suspense expected for the subgenre (without, thankfully, being overly reliant on jump scares) while also effectively conveying the not-confined-to-fiction fears and anxieties commonly faced by refugees. The claustrophobia and disorientation as experienced by the couple only exacerbate the traumas they’re wrestling with. They aren’t allowed to look for work, are only permitted to spend ₤74 a week, and are never told exactly which part of London they’re residing in. When Rial, who doesn’t leave the house often, does finally venture out, she is immediately turned around. When she asks a cabal of teenagers for directions, she is immediately met with condescension, then, finally, vitriol. “Go back to Africa!” one of them shouts at her as she walks away. The people at the nonprofit constantly hurl some form of the microaggression that as long as the couple act as “good refugees,” then they will have no problem.
But what exactly does "good" entail, and how much does it take to make a problem? How is one supposed to freshly start, as Bol so desperately — and to a point destructively — wants to, when a feeling of unwelcomeness seems to even suffuse the air you breathe? Dirisu and Mosaku are exceptional as people dealing with illimitable pain amid constant hostility, both tangible and apparently paranormal. His House ends surprisingly conclusively and optimistically. But there is little sense that everything has been resolved. While you can effectively address and contend with your traumas, they don’t move out of you once they’ve moved in. B+