His House is a 2020 Netflix original movie about a South Sudan couple seeking asylum in England. They quickly learn the house they’ve been given is haunted by the ghost of their daughter, who tragically drowned during their escape from South Sudan.
Director Remi Weekes creates a visually impressive movie through his camera work and seamless transitions into special effect scenes. His House is an impressive debut feature for the first-time director, and I’m excited to see what’s in store for his career.
The couple we follow through the movie, Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial Majur (Wunmi Mosaku), are asylum-seeking refugees from South Sudan who are allowed access into the UK under certain conditions: appearing for weekly check-ins, not having access to a job (instead supplied an income of 70 pound a week for food and necessities), and they must remain in their granted home until they attain citizenship. These rules keep the family inside the house and force them to deal with the supernatural forces present. The Majur’s are then torn choosing between two evils: a malevolent spirit or the harsh environment of a war-torn country.
A request to change houses is made, but Bol fears his actions have introduced suspicions as to whether he and Rial are adapting to their new environment; Bol wants to desperately fit in with his new surroundings, forcing himself and his wife to use metallic-tasting utensils, and joining in on soccer chants at a sports bar. Meanwhile, Rial feels like she doesn’t belong. She is made fun of for her accent and native tongue, and gets lost trying to find her way to the doctor. Once at the doctor’s, Rial comments on her tribal scars, saying she wears rival tribes’ scars to show she doesn’t belong to any tribe. The theme of conformity and belongingness is apparent throughout the movie, and its story has two faces. Bol dreams of a new life and refuses to be stuck in the past; Rial is trapped in the past and rejects change.
His House differentiates itself from the rest of Hollywood in its use of the supernatural, using a spirit from African folklore rather than your typical demons or poltergeists. The haunting in the movie comes from an Apath, or night witch and vengeful spirit of someone who practiced witchcraft. The Apath in His House terrorizes Bol and Rial with hallucinations of their daughter, who drowned after a boat full of refugees flipped during a storm. It’s interesting to watch the couple confront the hallucinations of their daughter and be influenced by “voices in the walls”, driving them deeper into their extreme views of conformity. However, I have one complaint with the film’s use of the night witch: the contradictory rules the spirit follows. In one scene, Bol is attacked by several manifestations of the witch, later discovering the witch can’t physically touch them. In a later scene this information is disproven, as Rial physically interacts with the witch. There’s a lack of consistency regarding the characteristics of the witch which confused me.
The cinematography of His House uses strong imagery and produces tones of isolation and loneliness to represent our characters. At night, the shot composition from Weekes and cinematographer Jo Willems is especially well done. Each scene with supernatural occurrences will have you looking all over the screen for where something might move or appear. From multiple holes in the walls, to a door in the hallway swinging open out of focus behind someone, His House keeps each scare feeling unique to the scene. This is an improvement over other modern horror movies which reuse the same jump scare several times in their film. His House also prominently uses silence to build tension as you pay attention to every floor creak, wall banging, and humming sound.
The film’s special effects are simple yet effective, some being metaphorical representations of how a character feels and others are hallucinations caused by the witch. Transitions from a physical set to a CGI environment were smooth and unnoticeable.
My greatest appraisal for the film is its plot twist. Upon reflection, the twist makes sense relative to the story, however, the film’s quick pacing and brief runtime made me not initially pick up on the turn of events. I personally wish the movie was slightly longer, as I felt some of the characters’ motives/erratic behavior could’ve been better developed with more time. While I was invested in Bol and Rial, there were moments I found to be out of place. For instance, Rial’s abrupt change of heart after being excited to receive asylum and then wanting to return to Sudan after only two days.
His House concludes with a positive message about living with and accepting the past, and also adapting to the future.
Overall, His House is a thriller with suspenseful moments, strong character development, and an important theme throughout. 8/10