His House

 

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Dreams, hallucinations and everyday horrors collude to turn the life of two asylum seekers into a living nightmare.

   
His House

Sorry We Spooked You: Sope Dirisu

 

In a war-torn pocket of South Sudan, Bol, Rial and Nyagak embark on the most dangerous journey of their lives. With the ring of gunfire in their ears, they board a crowded bus and then an equally crowded boat to seek asylum in England. Amazingly, Bol and Rial reach a detention centre in the UK – but without their daughter, who drowned en route. And then their nightmare really begins…

 

In a golden age of horror, fledgling filmmakers have reached into all sorts of ghoulish corners to bring fear into our hearts. To spotlight asylum seekers struggling to forge a new life in England almost seems like cheating. Although Bol and Rial are given a house in which to live, it is a crumbling shell on a derelict estate that resembles a prison block. In fact, their new home is a prison – they are not allowed to work or to leave and have to subsist on £74 a week. And if they do not report weekly to their case worker, they will be deported back to Sudan. Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) is at first amazed by the size of their new home; Bol (Sope Dirisu) is less impressed by the imaginative electrics. Rubbish is piled outside, the walls are peeling inside and there are gaping holes everywhere. Still, it’s a first step.

 

Remi Weekes, whose first feature this is, unfolds the opening scenes of His House with cinematic flair, whether focusing on the apprehensive face of the couple’s child or a close-up of girl’s blonde-haired doll. Once in England, Weekes ratchets up the tension by showing the utter disorientation of the refugees. When Bol visits the barber for the first time, he asks him, “Where are we?” – to which the man with the clippers replies, “High Street, mate.” Rial, on her first venture out on the cold, identikit streets, approaches three black schoolboys for directions. They purposefully misdirect her, while one of them, having made fun of her accent, shouts, “Go back to fuckin’ Africa, man!” Racism is everywhere.

 

But as Bol starts sprucing up the house with supplies from a cut-price supermarket, greater threats start to emerge. The house is patently haunted, but were the ghosts already there or did Bol and Rial bring them with them? It is here that the time-honoured tropes are brought – literally – moaning out of the closet, and a tedious familiarity descends on the film.

 

A seriously missed opportunity, His House could have been Insidious re-visited by Ken Loach – with a splash of I Am Not a Witch thrown in for good measure. If it had dared to be less of a generic horror film and more of a punch of social realism, the horror would have taken care of itself. Remi Weekes exhibits enormous verve – and promise – as a filmmaker, but if he tries less hard next time, he might find himself with something really special.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku, Matt Smith, Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba, Dominic Coleman, Vivienne Soan, Lola May.

 

Dir Remi Weekes, Pro Aidan Elliott, Martin Gentles, Arnon Milchan, Ed King and Roy Lee, Screenplay Remi Weekes, from a story by Felicity Evans and Toby Venables, Ph Jo Willems, Pro Des Jacqueline Abrahams, Ed Julia Bloch, Music Roque Baños, Costumes Holly Rebecca, Dialect coach Zabarjad 'Budgie' Salam.

 

Regency Enterprises/BBC Films/Vertigo Entertainment/Starchild Pictures-Netflix.

92 mins. UK. 2020. Rel: 30 October 2020. Cert. 15.