His House review: In this refugee story, the haunted house finds a new dimension of intimacy

Clarisse Loughrey
·3-min read
 (Aidan Monaghan/NETFLIX)
(Aidan Monaghan/NETFLIX)

Dir: Remi Weekes. Starring: Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, Wunmi Mosaku, and Matt Smith. 15 cert, 93 mins

The old ghost stories teach us that a haunted place is like a vault for lost memories. Death and violence write themselves on the walls and in the flagstones. What we experience are mere echoes. Not so in His House, Netflix’s latest horror venture, where the ghosts dwell inside of us. They go wherever we carry them. They settle where we settle. It’s a subtle twist, but an effective one – a way to give the haunted house genre a new dimension of depth and intimacy. It also makes for a commanding debut from writer-director Remi Weekes, here working from a story written by Felicity Evans and Toby Venables.

The film opens in South Sudan, as Bol Majur (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) and his wife Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) flee civil war, their daughter Nyagak (Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba) in tow. Tragedy strikes during the boat crossing: Nyagak's lost to the sea. When they arrive in the UK, men and women who appear to be nothing but hollow shells start to commandeer their lives. The couple spend months in a detention centre. When they’re finally let out on bail, it’s strictly as asylum seekers, not as citizens. Theirs is a life in suspension – they cannot work, they’re required to attend weekly meetings, and they’re put up in a house that they have no choice but to call home.

A superficially chummy, secretly sociopathic caseworker (Matt Smith) insists that he’s found them “a palace”. What we see is peeling wallpaper, a caved-in front door, and discarded pizza boxes so thick with bugs that they rattle. But the detritus turns out to be the least of their problems. Something has followed them across the ocean: an apeth, a night witch that feeds on the souls of the guilty.

Weekes here crafts a horror film in dual, clashing palettes – you get twice the scares, in a sense. There is the terror from within, the apeth, here played by formidable creature actor Javier Botet, whose spindly limbs have already haunted the frames of It and Crimson Peak. It terrorises Bol and Rial, whispering to them through mouldy holes in the walls, conjuring visions of what they so desperately want to forget – bodies in the water, ropes dripping with seaweed. But there is a world beyond that they fear, too. Weekes, with the aid of cinematographer Jo Willems, crystallises the UK’s “hostile environment” towards immigrants and brings it to gnawing, icy life. A woman in the window next door strokes her cat, her cheeks caved in so she looks like a hungry spectre. A trip to the doctors finds Rial lost in a maze of backstreets.

Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù and Wunmi Mosaku help anchor ‘His House’ in even its most phantasmal momentsAidan Monaghan/Netflix
Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù and Wunmi Mosaku help anchor ‘His House’ in even its most phantasmal momentsAidan Monaghan/Netflix

The couple discover that there’s not so much difference between the horrors inside and out. Blood, gathered in sticky pools, features in both. We first see it on the floor of the detention centre, as the camera passes by a man being tackled by guards. But these characters have no way to express their pain. The state expects them to be “one of the good ones” – to be grateful, to assimilate.

At dinner, Bol tries to convince his wife to use a knife and fork. “All I can taste is metal,” she sighs in response. DiÌ€rísuÌ€ and Mosaku, who have both already made their mark on TV, in Gangs of London and Lovecraft Country respectively, help anchor His House in even its most phantasmal moments. In their eyes, we see a silent collapse. For two people, who have lost everything, to somehow only lose more – that’s more frightening than a thousand bumps in the night.