REVIEW: ‘His House’ is Terrifying in More Ways Than One

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Horror is at its best when it taps into societal and cultural fears. With the current state of immigration in multiple countries and the intergenerational trauma that comes with it, His House holds a mirror to the life experience and deepest fears for many of us. The feature film debut for writer-director Remi Weekes stars Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, Wunmi Mosaku, and Matt Smith. As a horror film, His House explores the the trauma of migration and the post-traumatic stress it can leave, which can’t be escaped no matter how far you flee from it.

The film opens with a couple and their young daughter as they make a harrowing escape from war-torn South Sudan. Weekes wastes no time showing you the story that His House will tell over its runtime, using the terrifying reality of escaping war and a haunted house to tell a painful story of trauma, immigration, assimilation, and survival.

While the opening focuses on the dangers of leaving Sudan, the film then switches gears, throwing us into the lives of the young refugee couple as they struggle to adjust to their new life in a small English town. We see the husband (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) and wife (Wunmi Mosaku) as they deal with elements of the immigration process including navigating an interview and being moved into immigrant housing that could generously be called horrid- filled with bugs, a broken front door, and other unsanitary conditions.

Thought it is squalid, this is their home. It’s all they have and, what’s worse, their life in England is directly tied to it – they are not allowed to move, according to the terms of their asylum. This fact closes the common plot hole of many haunted house films that makes you wonder “why don’t they just leave?” His House counters by asking “what happens when you can’t just leave?” As an unspeakable evil begins to rise up from under the floors and walls of the house, the couple is trapped. The choice for them isn’t as simple as opening the door and walking out.

Throughout the film, we’re told repeatedly that their refugee status in England and their ability to stay in the country is linked to their ability to make a life in the country, starting in the house they were given. Additionally, when we see the couple leave their home,  Weekes uses side characters the couple does not know to showcase the hurdles that the husband and wife face.

The husband is quick to leave behind any semblance of his Sudanese culture, pushing himself to connect to England. At the same time, the wife finds herself unable to do so. She holds onto her culture, visibly wearing markers of her Sudanese identity on her body as scars that have importance to her and her identity. The way the couple’s new world treats them is distinct yet recognizable for any immigrant watching His House. 

For the wife, there would be no options even if her residence in England wasn’t tied to her remaining in the house. She is not like her husband who chooses assimilation, and she lacks the privilege of speaking English well enough to be left alone by even those you think would care for her. We see her as an example of how people treat immigrants.

Even those you would expect to show compassion can balk at opportunities to show empathy. One of the tenser moments of the film doesn’t involve traditional horror scares, instead, it follows the wife as she makes her way to the doctor. She walks alone. People stare. Her safety feels like a fleeting concept rather than something certain. She wears her fear on her face and when she approaches a group of young Black teens, she expects to find help. Instead, they mock her and use the time to answer her question for directions by pushing her further into confusion.


His House

Director Weekes brings us the common experiences of immigrants the world over. Immigrants, and even their children and their children’s children, live in a space between their new home and the one they left. Their lives ebb and flow between the country they call home and the country of their heritage. This is where the horror of His House lives. It’s buried in the culture of England, in the walls of the couple’s home, and as we learn, it’s nestled in their very identities.

His House explores the horror that lives in us. Fueled by grief and guilt, we each carry our monsters in our chest and that’s how this film scares you. It attaches the monsters to the protagonists in a way that they can’t unravel themselves from, no matter how hard they try. Society will not let them try to disentangle from their monsters. It’s not clear that they could, even if they were given the opportunity.

But beyond all this, Weekes utilizes every element in the haunted house playbook to execute spine-chilling scares. From the jump scare to the tense atmosphere that makes you question every whisper or out of focus shot of the background, you’re always uneasy. As the film continues you’re pulled into the couple’s fear in such a way that you feel as helpless as they are. But this also means that in their catharsis, you find relief as well.

While not an immigrant myself, I grew up with friends who were. More specifically, I grew up with undocumented friends who had to live most of their days in fear. There is a fear that sinks into your soul as the world around you makes your into the Other, hurts you, and reminds you that you can never fit in. It doesn’t matter your success or with how much ease you speak the language of your new home, it just sits in your soul. That fear eats at you through generations. That’s where His House hits home.

Ultimately, His House is an exploration of immigration, trauma, grief, and the guilt people carry. It’s a haunted house story unlike any I’ve seen before while utilizing the best parts of the subgenre and building on it as well. While horror may be delayed in theaters, His House showcases the narrative power of films on streaming platforms and horror in general.

His House is streaming exclusively on Netflix October 30, 2020.

His House
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TL;DR

Ultimately, His House is an exploration of immigration, trauma, grief, and the guilt people carry. It’s a haunted house story unlike any I’ve seen before while utilizing the best parts of the subgenre and building on it as well. While horror may be delayed in theaters, His House showcases the narrative power of films on streaming platforms and horror in general.