What’s Up at the Movies: We Review “His House”

Looking for a scary movie to watch this Halloween? Already burned through all of Angela Marandola’s two-part breakdown of some great options? (Wait, really? I’m impressed!) Well, I have just the thing! His House, a new film that just dropped on Netflix yesterday, deserves your attention. Not one of those fun slasher flicks you watch with a group of friends, this debut from British director Remi Weekes is more in the vein of The Babadook, It Follows, and Us— thoughtful, well-crafted horror that uses the genre to process personal/social darkness. You can chalk this one up as another point for the ongoing horror renaissance and (hopefully) count Weekes as another exciting new voice to anticipate being frightened by.

His House begins with two South Sudanese refugees, Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), being granted probational asylum in the United Kingdom after having lost their daughter, Nyagak (Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba), during their escape. The government sets them up in a run-down house in a rough neighborhood, and their case worker, Mark (Matt Smith), warns them that a failure to assimilate could mean getting sent back. Before long, they discover a dark presence with them in their new home, and they must decide how determined they are to hold onto their chance at a new life.

I hesitate to reveal more, because one of the strengths of His House is how effectively it scatters your paranoia in every conceivable direction. Clearly not one to keep his monsters hidden, Weekes gives you glimpses of what is tormenting the couple almost immediately, but his already masterful sense of atmosphere keeps their origin shrouded. Is the house itself haunted, or did something follow Bol and Rial to England? Did Mark pick this house for them on purpose? Has Bol just lost his mind? The film has a compelling answer to all these questions, though it stumbles somewhat in presenting it to us, which could be one of the very few times the director shows his inexperience. If with practice he learns to more delicately manage how and when we see his cards, his future work could deliver a remarkably tense viewing experience.

As it is, His House has multiple truly terrifying moments, all the more effective for how they form an intelligent exploration of trauma, survivor’s guilt, and the refugee experience. The two leads are both excellent, the nightmarish imagery is often inventive (the ominousness of a particular bonfire will stick with me for a while), and the script has some genuine surprises up its sleeve. Those looking for an endless barrage of scares will miss the intensity of the first few minutes (though things do ratchet up again at the climax), but staunch horror fans will recognize this as an exciting addition to an ever more exciting canon.

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