Getting out was not the end for Bol (Sope Dirisu) or Rial (Wunmi Mosaku). Having fled their war torn country and undertaken the deadly journey to the west, they begin the film jubilant that they have been awarded a home, of sorts, and the first step towards British Citizenry. But of course their troubles are far from over. Not only must they contest with the hostility of the government and local populace but there’s also something in the walls. Something far more dangerous than mice.
There’s a lot going on in Remi Weeke’s film. Bol and Rial’s angst pertains to a crisis in cultural identity, the pain of systemic prejudice and survivors guilt. Bol is haunted by the ghosts of his countrymen who died during the perilous journey to the west. The systemic indifference of the state, the hostile neighbours and the bleak British landscape all aggravate his tension, but pale in comparison to the true horror that refuses to release the couple; the trauma of the violence they’ve fled. It’s a film about two believable and likeable people at the mercies of a cruel world.
Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku are the lead performers and most of the film is spent exploring their fragile peace of mind. Dirisu is tenderly powerful as he riles against forces of darkness that are intent to drag him into misery and depression. Mosaku is often a foil to Dirisu but is within herself a tragic and humane figure of wounded fortitude. Matt Smith also cameos as the broad and insincere smiling face of the British establishment that tolerates but complete fails to understand Bol and Rials struggle. Smith manages to breathe life into the strawman role and even achieves a little pathos.
The film is however a very successful horror film in traditional terms. The creature design is unnerving and clever, subtly evoking the horrors unique to this story whilst also sitting comfortably within the ghost story traditions of which this film is an exceptional part. Rarely seen but always upsetting, the ghouls that stalk the pair and dwell within the walls of their home are palpable psychological threats to the pair. With gaping maws and twisting appendages, they are a terrifying realisation of a fate we have all become far too readily accustomed to.
Perhaps more surprising than the film’s conventional genre thrills is the film’s ambitious experimental touches. A powerful sequence begins close on Bol as he sits at his table eating his dinner in a tenuous peace. The camera pulls out to reveal just beyond the frame, his house abruptly stops and a raging and endless sea surrounds him. Our characters are frequently pushed into frightening expressive tableaus that tear away at the comfort their British home may afford. Behind the veneer of the mundane, lies a darkness that is expansive and hungry.
His House is a rare and exceptional horror film that creatively and vividly renders it’s anxieties and fears on screen. The immigrant experience is fancifully but authentically explored in a film that is frightening, thrilling and truly original.