His House (15)
Review: RJ Bland
Horror movies often reflect our fears on a societal and personal level. Religious extremism, racism, misogyny, personal loss and mental and physical decline are all themes that all have a certain resonance – and we can relate to most of them on some level. However, whilst some films are allegorical, others are a bit more direct in their methods and some (not many) ask audiences to explore subjects that are a bit more alien and seemingly less personally relevant. For instance, most of us living in the first world cannot fully appreciate the experience of asylum seekers and those that seek somewhere safe for themselves and their families. We can try and imagine what it must be like but it's not a world that the vast majority of us have any real clue about. It's obviously a bit of a politcal subject too, which is possibly why you don't really see many genre films that tackle this subject. Thankfully however, things are changing and Remi Weekes' debut feature, His House, embraces it with open arms.
Bol (Sope Dìrísù) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) are a couple of young asylum seekers who decide to escape the mayhem and violence of South Sudan. Their choice of destination? England. However, as we know, attempting to cross the Mediterranean is a tragically dangerous task but whilst their boat sinks, they are amongst a lucky few who are rescued and brought back to the UK. Although their initial stay in England is in an unwelcoming asylum centre, they are optimistic that they will have a better future. Much to their joy, they are approved for asylum status and moved to a rather run-down London neighbourgood. Whilst for most of us, the idea of living in a house that is falling apart and eeking out an existence on £74 a week seems terrifying, to Bol and Rial, it feels like a hopeful new beginning. However, their excitement soon begins to fade. Their new neighbours are not exactly welcoming and they are constantly reminded how grateful they should be and that they are guests in their new country. However, the couple soon realise that something seems to be 'off' with their new house...
The horror genre has always been one that has been a breeding ground for directorial talent and it feels like there are a sleuth of impressive feature film from first time film-makers being released every year. Ari Aster (Hereditary), Robert Eggers (The Witch), David Robert Mitchell (It Follows), Natalie Erika James (Relic), Rose Glass (Saint Maud) are a few recent examples of people who have announced themselves to the horror community – and the larger world – with films that show undoubted talent behind the camera. Well, you can now add Remi Weekes to that list. His House is a film about immigration and assimilation. It's a film about humanity and the real life horror that some people in the world endure every single day. It's also a film about hope and shame and acceptance too. But as good as all of this is, Weekes is ultimately successful because he manages to combine these worldly anxieties with affecting supernatural horror.
Being isolated and alone are key tropes in many a good horror movie. That sense that help is not around the corner and that upping and leaving will not solve the problem at hand. There's no better illustration of that set up than the situation that Bol and Rial find themselves in. They know nobody. Everyone outside the 'safety' of their new house is a stranger – and abusive and unfriendly ones at that. If they flee the house then their asylum status will be revoked and when Rial goes for a walk to try and find the local doctors, it feels like she's trying to navigate a maze. And Weekes films it all in a way that feels disorientating and close, almost suffocating at times. Whether or not what is going on inside the house exists purely in the minds of our central duo is sort of irrelevant because the way the tension is built and the horrors are realised is so effective. The film may start out feeling like a candid look at the lives of asylum seekers but it soon shows its genre colours. Weekes doesn't let the socio-political stuff get in the way of the horror, in fact he uses it to make it all the more powerful.
Special praise should be reserved for Sope Dìrísù and Wunmi Mosaku, who expertly convey the hopes and dreams and sorrow and pain of the couple looking for a new life in a foreign land. The film is as much about the fraying of their relationship and the growing void between them. The battle between assimilation and a longing for the past. There's a real emotional force to His House and although long overdue, it's vitally important that we have finally got a film that attempts to tell the very human story of displaced people who are merely looking to better their lives. And it's a bloody good one at that.