- Emma Simmonds
- 19 October 2020
The hellish experience of asylum seekers is explored with ingenuity in this striking British horror
Britain's asylum system is scrutinised and found pathetically wanting in this ingenious spin on the haunted house horror film from debut writer-director Remi Weekes, working from a story by Felicity Evans and Toby Venables. Stunningly realised and rich with satire, critical commentary and depictions of displacement, civil war and life-or-death decisions, His House rises far above run-of-the-mill horror genre flicks.
It follows South Sundanese refugees Bol and Rial Majur (played by stars of the moment Sope Dirisu, from Gangs of London, and Lovecraft Country's Wunmi Mosaku) as they are temporarily housed in an unspecified location in the South of England, banned from working or supplementing their measly allowance in any way, while their application for asylum is considered.
Their house is rundown and filthy, their front garden a dumping ground for locals. People are outright unfriendly, or – like Matt Smith's caseworker Mark – ostensibly matey but with an undercurrent of resentment. The couple are traumatised and, though Bol tries to make the best of the situation and assimilate as he is advised to, Rial is wary. How can this ever feel like home?
If the really gut-wrenching stuff is in the horror of what the Majurs are fleeing, their nightmarish journey, and the hostility they encounter from a country on which they have pinned all their hopes, then His House also trades in traditional scares for those seeking more conventional thrills. There are frights and ferocity but these too are tied to their ordeal and cultural beliefs – an apeth, or night witch, has followed them and takes up residence in their walls.
Although it mostly unfolds on an emotional and psychological level, Weekes has described how his own heritage helped inform and shape his perspective on the immigrant experience and the result is a film that feels credible. He combines a sense of personal outrage with a love for cinematic spectacle and there are some striking scenes, including one where Bol eats his evening meal oblivious to the change in his surroundings, as water begins to lap at his feet, before corpses rise up to grapple with him. Combine this with two utterly compelling lead performances and His House is an affecting and intelligent descent into one couple's hell.
Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 23 Oct and on Netflix from Fri 30 Oct.