Jordan Peele’s 2017 debut feature, Get Out, proved that socially-conscious horror films could be a universally liked thrilling watch, that leaves you with some food for thought. His House on Netflix is another excellent addition to the socially conscious horror genre that is reminiscent of Get Out but does not have the same finesse.
His House follows a young couple, Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), who barely flee from war-torn South Sudan to England to seek asylum.
Fortunately, they are released from the detention centre and allotted a house to live in. They have to abide by strict rules and regulations if they hope not to be sent back to their country.
As they try to adjust to their new lives in this new country, they find themselves being haunted by not only the house but their past too. The worst might not be behind them yet.
Wunmi Mosaku is an absolute treat to watch as Rial. She is a strong, self-possessed woman who has a grip on her circumstances. She understands what they overcame and what they owe, and does not wish to dance to the tunes that the people around her want to. Mosaku gives a restrained yet powerful performance.
Sope Dirisu as Bol is also excellent. He continuously tries to fit in and not let this opportunity go to waste. Unlike his wife, Bol is in denial and desperately wants to forget his past. Dirisu’s performance is much more vocal and pronounced than that of Mosaku but never becomes caricaturish because his fear is always understandable.
His House is the debut feature of director-writer, Remi Weekes. He shows control and a deep understanding of the subject matter he is tackling. For probably the first time, the residents of the house in a haunted house story, actually have a genuine reason to not simply shift from the haunted house. They are legally not permitted to.
Weekes successfully manages to keep the film realistic and centred around the plight of the asylum seekers, despite the supernatural elements. The actors elevate the material with their riveting performances.
The contrast between the husband and wife is one of the best things in His House. The contrast in their beliefs, reactions, processing and adjusting to England grounds this film and gives it authenticity.
Just the simple things like Bol’s insistence on speaking English instead of his native language Dinka gives us a brief glimpse into the immigrant experience.
The couple suffers from severe PTSD and survivors’ guilt. Matt Smith as Mark is an employee of a British social service that housed the couple. He is used wonderfully by Weekes to highlight how even the more empathetic and understanding of native citizens cannot fathom the distress of the refugees.
The cinematography by Jo Willems is great in the surreal scenes and creates gritty imagery and metaphors.
His House also uses the trope of dreams in horror films quite creatively as it is used to deliver the backstories of the characters and not for cheap fake scares. He also manages to sneak in a decent twist, towards the end of the film, that makes the film even more heartbreaking.
Since His House was Weekes’ debut feature, there were bound to be a few missteps. Weekes tries to match the expectations people have with a haunted house film. Unfortunately, he uses the most conventional techniques to get scares.
The film has plenty of jump scares and most of them are not even clever. Any avid horror movie watcher can spot the scares from miles away. The shot composition during the scares is such that the cinematographer always leaves a lot of space in the shot so, sure as the sun rises in the east, a horror element appears on the screen.
His House offers us a socially relevant drama in the packaging of a haunted house film. Weekes establishes himself as a director to watch out for.
If you go in expecting a thriller, this film may disappoint you in that aspect. But the performance of the cast and the drama surrounding it all is enough to make up for that.