Okay, look: we wanted to come back, after our month-long horror grim fandango, with something less horror-y here on No But Listen. But that was before we saw His House, and frankly we’d be lying to ourselves if we said we cared about anything else right now.
Released by Netflix over the Halloween weekend, His House is the directorial debut of British writer and editor Remi Weekes. It follows the story of two Sudanese asylum-seekers (Wunmi Mosaku and Sope Dirisu) looking to start over in London after being driven from their war-torn home – but the memories of the traumas they experienced there are not the only things that have followed them into their new lives.
I’ll cut to the chase here: His House is probably the best horror movie of 2020. And, even despite the lack of cinematic releases this year, that’s still saying something. This is a movie that takes the tropes of the haunted house genre, supplants them to a council estate, and winds a nightmarish ghost story filled with grinding, unyielding dread and a hazy grip of reality that marks it as one of the most effectively scary movies I’ve seen in ages. If you want horror that feels like actual horror, His House is going to hit that spot for you.
For some of you, that’s all you’ll need to here – but for those not sold on just the spook, let me keep going. What lifts His House out of just a solid haunted house story is the unrelenting reminders of the Sudanese conflict that Rial and Bol, our leading couple, have escaped. War is hell, and His House is not the first movie to note this, but the sheer honesty with which it depicts what they have been through is vitally important and, at times, painfully difficult to watch. Both Dirisu and Mosaku deliver in a two-handed lead performance, and it’s impossible not to engage with their desperation, their need for a new life after what they have escaped.
It’s that, too, which gives His House an underlying reminder of the real horror asylum-seekers face when coming to the UK; from a doomed voyage across the ocean to their new home, to the cold, blunt bureaucracy they face when they actually arrive, this movie weaves in this disturbing nods to the fact that, no matter how bad things might be in the titular house, even protesting it could be enough to get them branded ungrateful and tossed back to the nightmare that they only just escaped.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because it’s a careful, intricate, and morally complex story that requires watching to really appreciate in its full glory. But His House does not paint in broad strokes for these characters, and it frames their undeniable trauma as the real horror that drives the engine of this ghost story.
But it’s not a movie that sits there in the deep, profound unhappiness that it grows from; it’s far too good for that. Giving in to the misery that surrounds these characters would be easy, but His House consistently finds humanity and an edge of optimism that renders it a genuinely rewarding watch, despite what it might look like from the outside.
His House is one of the best movies of the year – horror or not. Compelling, complex, and genuinely scary, it’s an astonishing debut, and an urgent and vital conversation-starter on refugees in Britain, too.
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By Louise MacGregor
(header image via IGN)