Directed by: #RemiWeekes
While haunted houses certainly aren’t out-of-favor in modern horror movies—what with the recent success of The Haunting of Bly Manor and the Conjuring universe—Remi Weekes’ debut feature film His House nevertheless manages to reinvent the sub-genre as something which more-closely comments on our current society. The film follows a young married couple who, having escaped from war-torn Sudan, try and find asylum as refugees in England. After the dangerous journey by sea—which tragically cost the life of their young daughter—Bol and Rial are relieved to have found themselves in a large London flat, seemingly well on their way to a new life without the dangers of the past. That past however, seems to have followed them to their new home, along with threats the two refugees must face alone, socially cut-off from the rest of the country around them. Between the societal horrors taking place during the day, and the supernatural torment at night, Bol and Rial must fight to hold on to their new-found freedom.
The direction from relative newcomer Weekes is exceptional, with seamless shifts between hyper-realism and fantastical eeriness. The movie, before anything else, remains a truly terrifying experience, with similar scare tactics to those used throughout Ari Aster’s 2018 film Hereditary. The horror in His House lingers just on the edge of perception: an out-of-focus face in the far background or a subtle moment of movement in an otherwise still frame. This, paired with instances of genuine and un-subtle terror, will cause audiences to remain constantly on the verge of another jump, never resting back on numbness, to the huge success of the film.
Along with this generally high level of horror, Weekes expertly alters space to create a sense of surrealism for his already metaphysical film. Rooms gradually transition into vast ocean landscapes and walls stretch out at either side, making the house itself into a sort of sinister character: bigger on the inside than the outside, like a haunted Tardis.
Thanks to the work of both Weekes and his Director of Photography Jo Willems, a poignant parallel is drawn between the theatrical horror and the real-life challenges refugees must face every day in the UK. As Willems remarked in an interview with Variety Magazine, “the film works so well because we go from very real and normal situations to being in this visual evocative moment”. Along with these parallels, Willems’ beautifully captured wide-angle closeups showcase stirring moments of monologue in the film’s few sections of stillness.
However, these monologues wouldn’t have nearly as much of an impact on the film had it not been for the grounded, powerhouse performances from our two primary leads, Sope Dirisu and Wumni Mosaku, whose character arcs throughout the short 90-minute-runtime showcase a range and depth rarely found in horror movie leads. Matt Smith (Doctor Who, The Crown) adds a subtle non-chalantness to our leads’ high level of dramatic stakes, perfectly reflecting this divide between refugee and Brit, whilst himself remaining a sympathetic, likeable character.
The effects—both practical and digital—are hugely impactful, with creative monster-design lending itself to the aforementioned manipulation of space and setting. Thanks to these believable effects, Weekes is able to craft a genuinely unexpected, satisfying finale without losing the terror created through setting and creature-design. Because of this, His House remains a telling study of grief, displacement and identity, while still holding onto its identity as a good old-fashioned haunted house movie.