Horror in the 2010s has been interesting, but sometimes the product is a bit monotonous. Too often filmmakers opt to make horror films that leave the audience with nothing but some jump scares instead of those that truly get under people’s skin. His House, a new Netflix film from debut director Remi Weekes, is horror at its most meaningful. While it is a horror film, Weekes has much more on his mind than monsters and ghosts. The trauma shown in His House is blisteringly real, and every second of this highly original film depicts characters who cannot shake the demons in their lives. The best modern horror films are the ones which take modern day issues and/or personal traumas and manifest them in the demons of the story. Ari Aster’s Hereditary does this perfectly as does Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and Weekes is a director who has the potential to be on the same level of respect as these two famous directors. The writing and plot of this film need some work and the characterization is contradictory and weak, but the concept is ingenious with a powerful underlying message, which makes me look forward to the future of this director.
The first couple of minutes show a couple running away from a war and trying to escape by any means possible. Further research into the plot makes one realize they are fleeing from South Sudan, a country which has been plagued with a deadly Civil War in recent years. They boat across the ocean, narrowly making it across, and find themselves in Britain, where they are labeled as refugees and forced to integrate themselves into a society that doesn’t seem to accept them. The couple, Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), are picked to leave detention and are put into a house of the government’s choosing so they can blend themselves into British society. However, once they settle into the run-down and filthy house they must live in, they find that their demons and traumas still live with them, physically and mentally, after the long and consequential journey from Africa.
His House frames horror in a way I’ve never seen before. Anyone who is familiar with American horror movies is used to the cliché plot of a family that moves to a new house or new town and finds haunted things there. America loves this plot — movies like The Conjuring, The Shining, The Amityville Horror, and more depict a family that migrates into a new house and finds it to be evil. His House takes this concept and applies it to refugees of a horrible conflict, which immediately makes it more powerful than most American films of this type. While in the end it is not purely about immigration, the fact that the two main characters are in a foreign land that wants them to leave adds to the terror and claustrophobia while including a potent social commentary that strengthens the entire runtime. Weekes, the director and writer, clearly has a great vision, and throughout His House it is easy to see the creativity and originality oozing from this creative force.
Along with the director, the other great talent in His House is lead actor Sope Dirisu, who personifies grief and trauma in such a visceral manner that it is often difficult to watch. His performance here is electrifying and is the clear on-screen standout in a film with talent all over it. Dirisu adds to the director’s end goal of manifesting the past wounds of the two protagonists through the demons haunting the run-down house, and the movie succeeds the most on this front. By the end of the film, it is clear that Weekes is not making a film purely about the concept of being a refugee or displacement, but about dealing with the consequences of one’s actions and learning to accept the traumas of one’s past. Without spoiling the final act of the movie, the main couple has much to regret regarding what they had to do in order to survive, and the decisions they made while travelling will always stay with them. But in the end much of it was unavoidable, and dwelling on the horrors of the past without leaving any room for growth or evolution is pointless and will only lead to a painful existence.
I love the metaphorical themes and powerful imagery Weekes brings to the table in his debut film, but it never becomes as good as it should due to some poor writing. His House is one of those movies that relies so much on the atmosphere and the metaphorical imagery that it forgets to have a compelling plot or be interesting for much of the movie. The main reason the movie never grabbed me is because the director takes around two-thirds of the movie to make the characters interesting in their own right, especially the female lead Rial. For the first hour of this movie, Rial is a wooden character who has little personality and says some very odd things to other people in the movie, and I was confused for much of the film because of this (and not in a good way). Weekes reveals more about her character and what her past entails in the last act, but it still doesn’t justify the mediocre dialogue that Weekes assigns to the character early in the film.
Along with this, the main male protagonist, Bol, makes some awful decisions in His House that Weekes relies on far too much. I understand that grief and trauma can do horrible things to a person’s mental state, but during almost every scene he (and occasionally his wife) make the worst possible decisions they could in the given situation, which is simply poor writing. Even though this is a film centered around people of color, the characters are dumber than some white teenage characters in American horror movies, which really took away from the full experience for me. It seems that Weekes had an amazing premise, concept and message, but lacked the details of the script and plot devices for the film to truly stick in viewers’ minds. By the end of the movie, I was far more engrossed in the lessons and morals to hate the characters too much, but the writing bothered me in nearly every scene, which substantially held the movie back.
The major lesson that Hollywood should take from this movie is to seek out Remi Weekes for other projects, because his talent is apparent. While the writing could use some serious work, it is nothing that cannot be improved with work on different projects, and his vision is too interesting for viewers to never see him again. His House is worth the watch and I can definitely see many viewers not caring about the specifics of the writing and enjoying the movie for the amazing atmosphere and powerful messages near the end. It is not the most audience-accessible horror movie on Netflix, especially during the second half, but anyone looking for some more meaningful and psychological horror will likely find much to interpret and ponder over.
I give His House a B.