Horror movies throughout the passages of time have prided themselves on reflecting the prevalent social issues of the moment – be it The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Get Out, it’s a genre that masks the problems of whatever turbulent times in screams and blood to present them to the audience in a way that helps them process these experiences and even create awareness to those who may be unaware. Ok, I’m not exactly classing Friday The 13th Part 5 in this equation and I know this is a song I’ve sung many times before; but it’s an extremely valid point – especially in the wake of witnessing My House, the Netflix chiller written and directed with unerring confidence by newcomer Remi Weekes.
Tackling the thorny issue of refugees settling in the UK head on, Weekes turns in a haunted house story quite unlike any other by having it’s supernaturally tormented couple be a couple who has fled the horrors of another country only to run smack bang into isolation, xenophobia and a bloody nasty spirit who plagues their every moment.
Bol and Rial Majur have fled war-torn Sudan and entered the UK as refugees after their harrowing journey overseas ended in tragedy and their daughter, Nyagak drowned. Finally granted a house on the outskirts of London, the couple move in to find that the house isn’t exactly in good condition (“It’s bigger than my place” is the common grumble they receive in response) and it’s located in a god forsaken, maze-like, council estate packed with distrustful stares and scattered litter.
Bol is initially ecstatic about this second chance, confident that he can rebuild his life and gain some self respect back but Rial is less positive and finds the whole ordeal isolating and demeaning – especially the suggestions that they should “fit in” and be “one of the good ones”.
However, the couple start to first experience terrible nightmares and then waking visions of a vengeful Nyagak and other such ghouls lurking between the walls of their home and as the experiences intensify Bol’s desire to fit in collides with his wife’s beliefs, leaving the once loving couple at odds.
To ask to leave the house means they could conceivably be deported back to the brutal war zone they’ve only just escaped from, but to stay will almost certainly drive them mad – or worse – at the hands of the Apeth (the Dinka word for witch) that has followed them here for some unrevealed sin…
Unlike other haunted house movies in which gaggles of gleaming toothed, middle-class families find themselves stubbornly remaining in ghost infested properties despite every shred of common sense dictating that they vamoose sheepish, His House offers up somewhat of a unique conundrum. What do you do in this supernatural situation when fleeing the house will almost certainly put you in a more dangerous situation? Rial, the more religious of the couple by far and feeling hugely alone after experiencing racist jibes from a group of black school kids and stiff-grinned small talk from a patronising GP, believes firmly they should leave thinking that they stand a better chance in a war zone than house-sharing with a demonic being – but Bol is adamant that they stay, obsessed with trying to reassemble something approaching a dignified life (he was a bank clerk back in Sudan). It’s a wonderfully thought provoking catch-22 situation that also puts you firmly in the shoes of our victimised leads and demands that you pay attention to their plight while tweaking the usual conventions of the genre.
Assisting the director in maintaining this almost perfect balance of horror and social plight are his lead actors who do superlative work; Sope Dirisu, who so memorably found novel uses for a dart in Gareth Evan’s stonking Gangs Of London, is great as the initially hopeful Bol who slowly succumbs to the pressures of whatever wrongs he’s guilty of that has incurred the wrath of this creature that loves peeking at you through the holes in the walls. Wunmi Mosaku – who is no stranger to goopy, otherworldly shenanigans thanks to her hugely impressing turn in Lovecraft Country – is a rock as Rial, unable to deal with the oppressive nature of a foreign culture, yet far more capable when having to deal with her husband’s impending breakdown or the paranoia the Apeth itself spreads around the place as liberal as a Glade room freshener.
Ah yes, the Apeth… Eventually realised by the spindly-limbed talents of Javier Botet (who also gave us other such spindly-limbed entities in films like It, REC. and Stories To Tell In The Dark), the Apeth isn’t maybe quite as scary as it could be when it finally hauls itself out from behind it’s visions, but the film has some memorable, haunting imagery to snare us with, with the best being Bol eating at a section of his kitchen that happens to be floating in a void-like sea beneath an apocalyptic sky in which various drowned bodies start to rise from the depths…
It’s also worth mentioning the terminally downbeat social worker played by former fez wearing Doctor Who, Matt Smith who put in a performance of such nuanced grey-ness he must all but disappear on foggy days – it’s this character that probably reveals himself to be most like the rest of us watching; in that he does actually wants to help – but only as much as he can be bothered to.
While it probably trades more on it’s social commentary that it does a horror film, it’s gratifying to see such original voices being heard in the genre that prioritizes such detail and character in these scary movies and drives an important message home while it makes us spill our tea with a well-timed jump scare.
A barnstorming debut, not to mention it’s on Netflix right now, His House is a challenging independent frightener that far more to say for itself that just “boo”.