His House

After a harrowing trip from South Sudan in which their young daughter is lost in the sea, asylum seekers Bol (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, AMC's 'Humans') and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku, 'Lovecraft County's' Ruby) are advised they are being released from detention.  But their eventual freedom still hangs in the balance as they must obey very restrictive rules with a scant allowance they are forbidden to supplement with work.  Bol must hide his disgust at the rubbish strewn decay case worker Mark (Matt Smith, "Official Secrets") enthuses about as if it were a palace as he presents “His House.”

Laura's Review: B+

Writer (from a story by Felicity Evans and Toby Venables)/director Remi Weekes (short 'The Tickle Monster') made a splash in the Midnight section of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival with his socio-political ethno horror cum psychological thriller that can stand with such genre entries as Jordan Peele’s “Get Out and Babak Anvari’s “Under the Shadow.”  Featuring strong performances, especially from Mosaku, “His House” explores the devastating psychological effects of Sudanese horrors on one couple now faced with cold alienation in an English housing estate.

Pay attention to the film’s opening minutes which both inform the couple’s upcoming haunting and misinform us by leading us to make assumptions which will be shockingly upended.   Bol’s nightmares will be haunted by his view of young Nyagak (Malaika Wakoli-Abicaba) slipping below the waves, but his and Rial’s daytime hours are no less comforting in a ‘new’ home whose door caved inward when Mark attempted to open it.  After being told how special they must be to receive a space twice as big as homes which hold twice as many (along with rules like ‘no candles, no smoking, no visitors’), the lack of dignity the couple is afforded is striking, the home full of stained mattresses, rotting food covered in roaches and dodgy electrical wiring.

Soon Bol’s hearing whispering emanating from a hole in the wall as we witness a wide-eyed Black ghoul behind him, a hair-raising moment.  A creepy blonde neighbor (Vivienne Soan) looks down from a window, stroking a cat.  Hearing knocking sounds from below at night, Bol descends to see a strip of wallpaper peel down like skin from raw flesh, exposing another hole, this one with a rope dangling from it.  As he pulls and pulls, seaweed appears on the rope, then, finally, Nyagak’s doll.    The next day, Rial attempts to head to the shops and is imprisoned in a maze of lanes leading to dead ends and mocked by the three Black teens she asks for help.  Back at home, she is lured by a voice.  Rial tells Bol that a Witch (Cornell John) will lead them to Nyagak if they return home.  Bol insists she’s gone forever, England is now their home and they must burn their belongings to rid themselves of this curse.  The couple thus divided must still present a united front to British authorities.   Mark, having rejected Bol’s appeal for a move as a sign he’s not willing to assimilate, is appalled by the holes in the wall Bol insists he will repair.

Weekes does a lot with a little, his creepy imagery disturbingly assembled by editor Julia Bloch ("Green Room") and accentuated by a suggestive sound design and music by Roque Baños ("Don't Breathe").  Production designer Jacqueline Abrahams found just the right housing estate in Tilsbury while a sound stage’s ingenious design allowed for the floating walls and ceilings of Bol’s nightmares.  Cinematographer Jo Willems ("The Hunger Games: Catching Fire") contrasts the chilly despair of Bol and Rial’s current position with fiery representations of their past.  Rial’s scarification, a symbol of the warring tribes she was caught between in Sudan, is naturally achieved by the production’s makeup artists.

The film’s narrative climaxes with the push-pull between Bol and Rial, both of their recollections having been excised of truths they’d rather forget but are forced to remember.  Weekes’s feature film debut is powerful on multiple levels, delivering chills with a message, and he brings it all home with a satisfying emotional catharsis. 

Robin's Review: B

"His House" premieres on Netflix on 10/30/2020.