Dir: Remi Weekes. Starring: á¹¢á»páº¹Ì DÃ¬rÃsÃ¹, 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, Netflixâs latest horror venture, where the ghosts dwell inside of us. They go wherever we carry them. They settle where we settle. Itâs a subtle twist, but an effective one â 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 (á¹¢á»páº¹Ì DiÌriÌsuÌ) 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 theyâre finally let out on bail, itâs strictly as asylum seekers, not as citizens. Theirs is a life in suspension â they cannot work, theyâre required to attend weekly meetings, and theyâre put up in a house that they have no choice but to call home.
A superficially chummy, secretly sociopathic caseworker (Matt Smith) insists that heâs found them âa palaceâ. 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 â 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 â 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 UKâs âhostile environmentâ 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.
The couple discover that thereâs 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 âone of the good onesâ â to be grateful, to assimilate.
At dinner, Bol tries to convince his wife to use a knife and fork. âAll I can taste is metal,â she sighs in response. DiÌriÌsuÌ 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 â thatâs more frightening than a thousand bumps in the night.