His House, 2020.
Written and Directed by Remi Weekes.
Starring Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku, Matt Smith, Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba, Javier Botet, Emily Taaffe, Rasaq Kukoyi, Vivien Bridson Cornell, John Bradley Banton, Gamba Cole, and Scott Michael Wagstaff.
A refugee couple makes a harrowing escape from war-torn South Sudan, but then they struggle to adjust to their new life in an English town that has an evil lurking beneath the surface.
It’s a tossup discerning what’s more terrifying; war-torn Sudan, the haunted new London home, or the blatant racism on display from UK citizens (variety is the spice of life, and it’s not just Americans that are horrible in this regard). British writer and director Remi Weekes (taking on a story from Felicity Evans and Toby Venables) is also largely successful at connecting all of these threads of His House into a visually terrifying (this is one of the rare cases where the jump scares are actually calibrated well enough to get a jolt out of viewers) and heavy tale of self-reflection grounded in just the right combination of reality and witchcraft.
Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku play African couple Bol and Rial following sort of successfully fleeing the surrounding violence in Sudan, but not with their young daughter whom they are still grieving. Nevertheless, after some inhumane refugee detention treatment, they have been granted some resources and a home to make their own as they start their new life. Given the situation, there is a caveat that they are also not allowed to leave the home or find a new one (not to mention the laundry list of rules prohibiting them from having parties or even getting jobs). Much to their surprise, the titular house is actually quite spacious although is in dire need of renovation and general cleaning. It’s suspicious, but not quite enough yet to say that something is off about the situation.
Things really start to get freaky when, in a sequence that feels ripped right out of a Silent Hill game (one reason why I like this movie so much), Bol starts hearing garbled noises and scattering from inside the walls, eventually peeling back some layers to find a dark hole that seems to lead to hallucinations of the past. In this same scene is a brilliant shot that effectively creates a jump scare by utilizing cinematography, shot selection, and mood more than the noise itself, which is always appreciated. It’s the first clear indicator that His House is not just a horror debut from a unique voice with a refreshing African culture angle, but also has the craftsmanship down alongside seemingly plenty of intriguing thematic ideas to play around with. It may not connect all of those threads fully into a cohesive singular important message, but there’s enough separately to take away.
Without giving too much away, the haunting appears to be related to the daughter Bol and Rial were unable to safely bring with them. It’s also not clear whether they are being punished for failing or if there’s more to the backstory we don’t know, making use of creepy tribal custom designs and relentless terrorizing causing a descent into madness. There’s a part where Bol has had enough and goes to their caseworker Mark (Matt Smith, always a pleasant screen presence popping up here for a few brief moments) to demand literally any other house. Actually, it feels like he would be happier being moved to a street corner rather than having to deal with his current demonic nightmare. Bol is unable to actually mention the supernatural presence, talking about a rat infestation instead, but more to the point has a nervous cackle punctuating every statement; the poor guy is going insane and it’s palpable.
As for Rial, she’s upset Bol is hiding what’s really going on and attempting to fit in with the people that have nothing but contempt for them. They are each individually experiencing hallucinogenic horror (and eventually real horror in the form of Javier Botet once again embodying a disturbing creature), with their environment and handling of the terror creating friction within their love life. There is also more that they need to confront, and in that respect, His House has a legitimately shocking twist that is both harrowing and re-contextualizes the story and characters up until that point. For what has to be a low-budget, both practical and special effects are spookily imaginative, the performances find the emotion and conflict of the dilemma, the atmosphere is chilling, and the ending has just as much for viewers to reflect on as it does for the characters.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com