“His House” is a high-minded horror film, a ghost story/witch movie with a message.
If it’s not as edge-of-your-seat frightening and involving as “Get Out,” its elevated intentions still put it in the same conversation.
It’s as current as a headline and as hot as a political hot button allows. And as the film plays out against the backdrop of the trauma of emigrating from a war-torn homeland, the cost in lives, morality and sanity, it manages to “both sides” this controversial issue.
We see what immigrants go through to get “here.” And we see the cost children pay on that journey.
Rial and Bol went through hell to get here, “here” being the UK. Local bureaucrats may not be granting them their most fervent dream, but “bail as asylum seekers” will do, “a home of our choosing” while their case is being considered is as close to the finish line as they could hope.
Because we’ve seen the race that got them here. In a quick, impressionistic montage, first-time feature director Remi Weekes shows Bol (Sope Dirisu) toting daughter Nyagak (Malaika Wakoli-Abigada) across the Sudanese desert, the over-crowded boat that sinks as they cross the Mediterranean, the screams and the horror on face of Rial (Winmi Mosaku) was they lose the child in the chop.
Now, the functionary (Matt Smith of “Doctor Who”) who shows them around a dilapidated, buggy and smelly apartment enthuses that “a new beginning starts with a single step,” and takes Bol’s firm declaration of “We’re NOT going back” as “that’s the spirit.”
All they need to do is be on their best behavior, check in once a week and “fit in.”
Bol resolves to do just that. Rial is resisting. English pleasantries fall on her deaf ears, conversations with strangers take on the darkest passages of the memoir of their journey.
“We’re not like them,” she tells her husband. They don’t belong here. They should go home.
And that flat? It’s not just the upkeep and amenities that give them the creeps. There are noises in the walls, voices, flashes of the little girl who drowned on their way here. Both hear the voices, both hallucinate.
Bol starts haunting the local home improvement store, buying hammers, pry bars and box cutters. The wallpaper comes down, then the drywall. What is IN there?
One clever bit, him grabbing at the wiring, yanking until it leads to seaweed which turns out to be tangled in Nyagak’s doll, which a hand reaches from inside the wall to yank back.
Rial seems resigned to all this, a hard, knowing woman with an answer. There’s an “apeth,” a witch. And it’s followed them all the way from Sudan, egged on by the terror of their night crossing of the sea that went so wrong.
The hallucinations crop up at odd times and tend to reflect the growing cracks in their marriage. She wants to eat on the floor, with their fingers, as in the old country, to speak in Dinka, their native tongue.
“ENGLISH!” he barks. “Next time, let’s try the TABLE.” But all she gets out of using a knife and fork is the “taste” of the “metal.”
It’s not close to being the scariest movie you’ve seen this year. But the political/immigration subtext, the grim cause-and-effect of their haunting and a pretty good twist or two make “His House” a haunted British council flat tale well worth checking out.
MPA Rating: TV-14, violence, horrific images, death
Cast: Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku, Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba and Matt Smith.
Credits: Written and directed by Remi Weekes, story by Felicity Evans and Tony Venables. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:33