In the opening minutes of His House, Sudanese refugees Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) and Bol (Sope Dirisu) flee their war-torn village, make the perilous crossing to England in a crowded dinghy and lose their daughter to the waves. Enough horror to last a lifetime, you’d think. But this is only just the beginning.
When we next meet the couple, they are in front of a probation panel at a British detention centre – God knows how long they’ve been there! – and learning that they are to be discharged. Or are they? Their release is subject to so many rules – no friends, no guests, no parties, no work – that you cannot help but wonder whether the home they are moving to is just another detention centre.
It certainly seems that way upon arrival. The place is a hole – bare walls, threadbare furniture, faulty electrics – and however lucky case worker Mark (Matt Smith) insists they are, it’s little comfort. Worse still, the house is haunted. Yes, some indigenous demon from the couple’s past – a night witch, or ‘apeth’ – has followed them across continents and resolved to torment them for some unaccounted-for crime.
In a refreshing twist on the old ‘terrorised girl’ trope, it’s the man, Bol, who is terrified of these bumps in the night. Rial is completely unfazed, convinced that the apeth’s intent is actually benign, that it is offering them a chance to get their daughter back. Tensions simmer. If only the couple could find some new accommodation. But they can’t. The terms of their probation stipulate they must remain where they are, which may be the most plausible reason any horror film has ever devised for characters having to stay put in a haunted house.
Roque Baños’ eerie score and Mark Heslop’s wonderfully tactile sound design do a tremendous job building atmosphere
It’s all very plausible, in fact. Minus the supernatural stuff, Rial and Bol’s experience of asylum seeking is sadly all too common in this country, and, if anything, it’s the unfeelingness of the bureaucratic system they come up against that provides the film’s scariest moments. Much scarier than its jump scares, which the film really doesn’t need; Roque Baños’ eerie score and Mark Heslop’s wonderfully tactile sound design do a tremendous job building atmosphere, and these jumps totally kill it.
The big dump of backstory about an hour in also kills the pace; if only this information could have been more artfully interwoven. Mercifully, the film does not run too much longer after this and it manages to recover its momentum, leading to a memorable climax and a hauntingly ambiguous final shot.
It’s an impressive piece of work. A good calling card for Weekes and another fine horror film in what is turning out to be something of a golden period for the genre.
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