Sundance 2020: The Horrors of Being a Refugee Rise in ‘His House’ – Review
Director/screenwriter Remi Weekes gives Netflix a sure to be modern classic with His House. This being Weekes’ first feature cements his name as one to look out for in the coming years. His House follows a married couple from South Sudan in desperate search of a better life in London. The two catch a glimmering break when their status upgrades from detainees in a detention center to asylum seekers in a government-provided flat. All they have from South Sudan are what they can wear and memories. Unbeknownst to them, that is not the only thing from home that followed their immigration across sea.
Refugee focused narratives could not be more poignant right now. Across the variety of content in this subgroup, rarely does one see a refugee story rooted in traditional horror. Refugees more than often endure the most threatening obstacles; it was inevitable that this sensitive topic would get channeled through a horror film. What stalled this merge is the fear of reaching unproblematic success. Is there an audience for such audaciousness? Weekes, being a black artist from the U.K., thinks so and his response is one of the scariest, yet perfectly cinematic haunts one can experience.
His House is unironically a classic haunted house film. Two people move into a new home and find out not everything is what it seems. This very typical structure is thankfully flipped upside down. Two refugees who move into a hateful low-class mainly white neighborhood find out their new home has hidden secrets, but their status as asylum seekers raises limitations. They must behave as neighbors, learn how to fit in, and ultimately makeup on the promise of being some of the “good ones”. The tangible fears of facing deportation back to a war-ridden South Sudan collide with the intangible fears of what goes bump in the night.
Lead actors Wunmi Mosaku and Sope Dirisu effortlessly carry the audacity of it all on their backs with finesse. Their fearlessness breathes pure spirit into the material; a connection that grasps viewers’ scrutiny from their very first scene. Their fantastic performances elevate the haunts to the next level – further deepening the chilling prints it leaves on one’s mind. Their raw emotion and vigor make them the perfect empathetic leads a horror movie can ask for. Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith also co-stars and is always a pleasure onscreen, despite being a lackey government service worker.
The horror of His House stays with one in a superlative way. This is thanks to Weekes’ various methods of scares. The conventional, often beat to death, method of jump scares are found, but in a rare turn of events make up for some of the best moments in the film. On the other hand, solemn moments of scarring images make time to creep into one’s inner consciousness. Tension reaches immense heights with the refusal to diminish, making the viewer feel further away from safety and relaxation. This is far from an easy watch. The script reaches high levels of surrealism making for some amazing visuals that one could never imagine. With credits such as The Hunger Games films and 30 Days of Night, cinematographer Jo Willems puts his skills to test in this mixture of dreamlike and real-world imagery. His great success deserves just as much credit as Weekes does.
Black Horror is thriving in a current renaissance and His House is a sign that this is nowhere near over. Given the brute realities of the refugee crisis and turn of events in the film, multiple watches give new insight unavailable at first viewings. An old school mix of practical effects, costumes, and makeup proves that the magic of haunted house films is not yet lost- despite Hollywood’s desire to kill all goodwill with dull entry after another. One can also say His House is another leading example of a POC lead narrative single-handedly carrying a style back into the spotlight.
Unique with beautiful messages of recovery and reconstruction from a refugee perspective, this is already a hit. The fact that it is utterly horrifying to the most entertaining degree makes it absolutely worthy of multiple viewings with an audience. Just representation of Sudanese culture in the horror genre cannot go unpraised or even unnoticed. What could not be a more effective win for Netflix is sure to gain a huge worthy following upon release.