Synopsis: Refugees escape war only to land in a haunted house.
His House is a movie about a terrifying house renovation. Or at least that’s what I told myself. This is because I can’t handle horror movies; they make me scream with fright. And that’s just during the opening credits. Some claim that being scared is ‘fun’ or ‘exciting.’ Wrong! I am a (somewhat) normal person who knows that being scared is no fun.
But I decided to give His House a chance because, at the very least, it’s not a slasher movie. Instead the movie focuses on ghouls, ghosts and witches. Which I pretend that I’m not scared of, but shriek at the first indication of a ghost– like the turning of a doorknob. So I decided to take in the movie as just another house reno program.
His House is a fine debut from writer-director Remi Weekes in which he tells the story of two South Sudanese refugees; a wife, Rial (Wunmi Mosaku)and husband, Bol (Sope Dirisu). Flashes of their nightmares show us their desperate flight from their war torn country which included a treacherous sea crossing. They make it to England and wait, stunned and exhausted, at a detention center where they hope for asylum.
There is a hopeful development when they are placed in council-type housing. I was pleased to see that their social worker, Mark, was a nice chap. As a nerd, I was extra pleased to see that Mark was played by Matt Smith– Dr. Who!
Their place is a mess, with old food and junk strewn about. And the electricity doesn’t work. Goodbye says Dr. Who, leaving them in a shabby two-story. On tv it’s the sort of property that gets bought at auction by a husband & wife who flip houses. But of course they get to go home at the end of the day. No such luck for Rial and Bol. And they have been informed that they must reside only at this residence. Sort of like the movies where contestants try and spend the night at a haunted house. Except this couple expects to be there for months.
Rial is understandably depressed while Bol tries to move forward. He takes walks into town and greets neighbors. Everyone he sees is white –no other refugees –and the neighborhood is rundown. (Filmed in Tilbury in Essex.) I really felt for them too because they are assailed day after day with the UK’s famously bad weather, all gray and dreary. Readers are well aware, I’m sure, that the British spent many years traveling the globe looking to colonize anyplace with sunny skies. But the UK got out of the Imperialism business and now make do with jaunts to Ibiza. Sadly, warfare has forced poor Bol and Rial to adjust to no sun at all and a supernatural presence in their house.
Very quickly, things start to go bump in the night. I was afraid that it was a racist ghost. (The few English whites and Blacks they meet basically tell them to piss off back to Africa.) Maybe some skinhead died in the house. Bol becomes convinced that there is something in the walls. He peels away old wallpaper and discovers….well, no spoilers. He is determined to fix things. So while Rial is afraid to venture out during the day (bad weather), Bol goes and spends their food allowance at the hardware store.
Just like in the reno shows, once you start working you find all sorts of major problems, like no plumbing and termite kingdoms. But Bol does manage to fix the lights so they don’t have to use only spooky candles. The candlelight seems to inspire Rial to recount folktales: all terrifying. One night over dinner she tells Bol the story of an “apeth,” or night witch, who exacts revenge on those who have taken what was not theirs. She intones, We do not belong here. GULP—Scary!
And I’m afraid that the ghouls, ghosts and witches who appear at night are not of the wispy, shy variety. They really interfere with Bol’s work on this fixer-upper. Night after night, Bol gets off-task and hammers the hell out of the walls, trying to defeat the something in the walls.
Before long they have gone half mad from their homeland trauma and the stress of the house renovation. One day, Bol goes to Dr. Who’s office to request another residence. He is under a lot of pressure to be a “good” immigrant and show that he and his wife are adjusting and grateful. But he has to get out of the haunted house. He tells Dr. Who that they would like a new placement because of rats. If only it were rats! Poor Bol and Rial. Dr. Who says he’ll have a look himself. Uh oh, because we know that there are about four thousand holes in the wall and that Rial is prone to telling stories about witches tormenting them.
But, why, why would the witch target them? Or is it extreme survivor guilt? The answer unspools in a flashback at the end of the movie. It Is Horrifying. But be brave and see the movie, because its message, that ultimately, what humans can do to each other is scarier and more heartbreaking than even Rial’s spooky folktales.
P.S. The film’s stars, Wunmi Mosaku and Sope Dirusu are British Nigerian actors. Other notable English actors of Nigerian heritage include: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Carmen Ejogo (Fantastic Beasts films), Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda), David Oyelowo (Selma) and John Boyega (Star Wars sequel trilogy).
P.P.S. The characters Rial & Bol are refugees from South Sudan. South Sudan seceded from Sudan* in 2011. Civil war erupted in 2013. Since then, at least 400,000 have been killed and more than two million people have become refugees according to Global Conflict Tracker.
* Sudan includes the western region of Darfur whose people have also been killed and imperiled by widespread hunger, civil warfare and genocide since 2003. At least 300,000 people have been killed and nearly two and a half million Darfuris have been displaced.
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: Scary with a sensitive look at the plight of refugees. And first -rate performances from the two leads.
Humor Highlight: Social worker visit to inspect the property.