Sudanese refugees Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) are granted provisional asylum in the U.K., following a dangerous sea crossing in which their daughter was killed. They move into a new house on a run down, garbage-strewn housing estate. Their caseworker, Mark (Matt Smith), provides a box of groceries and not much further help. As the pair attempt to settle into their new home, they are met with a series of supernatural encounters as ghosts appear from behind the living room wall. Rial is convinced it is the work of an Apeth, or Night Witch, who now resides in the house with them. Since their asylum is contingent on Bol and Rial staying in one place, they have no choice but to deal with the Night Witch on their own.
His House could be considered a contemporary of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook or Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona – films using a supernatural approach to tell stories about grief and anguish. Although the narrative is ostensibly a ghost story, it is a layered and relevant one. Weekes has made a film that works as straight horror, as a sharp piece of social commentary, and as a metaphor for coping with trauma.
The most upsetting aspect of His House is the experience Bol and Rial endure to get to the U.K., and that a deprived, indifferent corner of England subsequently represents salvation for them. Weekes smartly uses the paranormal element, the Night Witch in particular, as a manifestation of their experiences and ensures His House is never stodgy or preachy.
The depiction of the refugee experience is a sympathetic one and should hopefully provide some perspective for anyone duped into believing the tabloid press and the current (UK and Australian) government’s demonising of refugees. So there are frequent references to Bol and Rial being “one of the good ones.” Instead of starting off from a position of compassion, the implication here is they must prove themselves – or earn the right to be called a ‘good refugee.’
Their case workers also make a point to let Bol and Rial know their house is “bigger than mine,” enforcing the misconception that they are getting away with something, or are being given preferential treatment. Weekes handles this deftly, illustrating this pervasive attitude as a series of smaller instances built up over the course of the film. The reality, of course, is the only reason for fleeing half way around the world and undertaking such a perilous journey is one of fear and desperation and last resort.
Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku are both excellent as Bol and Rial and ensure these are two sympathetic, but never overwrought characters. Rounding out the small cast is Matt Smith, who gets to step out of the shadow of Doctor Who and show what a great actor he is.
His House is a harrowing watch at times, but it’s great to see a horror movie using the genre to tackle an important subject matter. The result is a unique take on the haunted house concept, and an intelligent and thought provoking ghost story.