His House review – effective haunted house horror with timely spin

A Sudanese couple seek asylum in the UK but find something evil lurking in an accomplished debut from writer-director Remi Weekes

With his striking debut feature His House, British writer-director Remi Weekes has constructed a horror film that takes the overstuffed and overfamiliar haunted house subgenre and briefly revitalises it. He combines elements that are fresh and others that are familiar to create both a humanising story of immigration and an unsettling, old-fashioned tale of a haunting, neatly oscillating between the two. It’s a confident and compelling statement of intent from a young, ambitious film-maker and it’s no surprise that Netflix sneaked in before Sundance kicked off to buy the rights.

For the first 20 minutes, His House plays less like a supernatural horror and more like a grounded human drama, telling the plight of a Sudanese family seeking asylum in the UK. Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) risked everything to take a nighttime boat journey to safety, or at least the dream of safety away from violent conflict back home. But an accident at sea has them arriving on British shores grieving the loss of their daughter. After an unspecified time at a detention centre, they’re granted their own house, far from London and in a grimy state of disrepair, but a house nonetheless and one that’s theirs to turn into a home. Initial relief slowly turns to fear however as they start to believe they’re not alone.

Setting his film in an unspecified part of England, Weekes makes life for the couple as scary out of the house as it is inside. Their brief encounters with the outside world are mostly harsh and unforgiving, from open to casual racism, making any sort of adjustment seem impossible. But Weekes also avoids leaning into caricature, especially with Matt Smith’s empathetic housing officer who could have so easily been painted as a villain. We’re in fantastical territory but Weekes keeps one foot in the real world throughout. The haunting that takes place is one that’s tied to something that feels tangible, not only grief over the death of their daughter but the devastating weight of survivor’s guilt, for the ones that were left behind or lost along the way.

While at times Weekes does rely on some tired scare tactics and an often ineffective score, he also has some effectively nasty tricks up his sleeve, including a killer twist that adds further poignancy to the story and an intriguing backstory for the force that plagues the couple. He also dabbles with some surrealist imagery, with mixed results, but it’s refreshing to see a horror film that doesn’t take the easy route by settling into a tried-and-tested formula. It’s the work of someone with a lot to say and a lot to show, hinting at a promising career both in and out of the genre.

There are strong performances from Dirisu and Mosaku, acing roles of great technical and emotional difficulty, securing our investment in their journey, one that has greater stakes than the average haunted house horror. At a tight 93 minutes, Weekes knows how to pace his story with the assurance of a film-maker with far more experience, a tenacious calling card that should pique the interest of observant Hollywood execs as it simultaneously scares its way into your house when it lands on Netflix.

  • His House is showing at the Sundance film festival and will be available on Netflix later this year

Contributor

Benjamin Lee in Park City

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Last Thing He Wanted review – misfiring Anne Hathaway thriller
Mudbound director Dee Rees stumbles with a confused Netflix adaptation of Joan Didion’s political thriller about a conflicted journalist in the 80s

Benjamin Lee in Park City

28, Jan, 2020 @9:26 PM

Article image
Miss Americana review – Taylor Swift doc is too stage-managed to truly sing
The singer emerges as charming and undeniably talented in this Netflix documentary but it’s too slick for genuine insight

Benjamin Lee in Park City

24, Jan, 2020 @2:43 PM

Article image
Velvet Buzzsaw review – Netflix art world horror is flawed but fun
Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo reunite with Nightcrawler writer-director Dan Gilroy for a silly-but-energetic film that tries to match scares with satire

Benjamin Lee

29, Jan, 2019 @12:41 AM

Article image
Shirley review – Elisabeth Moss anchors darkly compelling literary psychodrama
A perversely entertaining take on a brief period of Shirley Jackson’s life gives the star one of her most daring roles to date

Benjamin Lee in Park City

26, Jan, 2020 @4:12 PM

Article image
Zola review – stylish viral tweet-based sex and crime caper
Fantastic performances, including breakout Taylour Paige, and confident direction from Janicza Bravo lift an often bumpy ride

Benjamin Lee in Park City

24, Jan, 2020 @11:57 PM

Article image
Sylvie's Love review – heartfelt period romance is a thrilling throwback
Electric chemistry between Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha ignites this loving, lovely tribute to Hollywood melodramas

Benjamin Lee in Park City

28, Jan, 2020 @7:14 PM

Article image
Minari review – moving and modest coming-of-age Sundance hit
The autobiographical story of a Korean American family trying to sustain a farm in rural Arkansas has deservedly become the festival’s most universally loved film

Benjamin Lee in Park City

29, Jan, 2020 @9:33 PM

Article image
Uncle Frank review – top form Paul Bettany lifts phony Alan Ball drama
A heartfelt performance from the British actor elevates an otherwise trite and frustrating story about an alcoholic gay professor in the 1970s

Jordan Hoffman in Park City

26, Jan, 2020 @1:57 PM

Article image
The Father review – Anthony Hopkins drives devastating dementia drama
A brutal, trippy portrait of what it must feel like to lose your grip on reality boasts an Oscar-worthy performance

Benjamin Lee in Park City

28, Jan, 2020 @1:52 AM

Article image
Worth review – Michael Keaton excels in powerful 9/11 drama
The true story of the lawyer tasked with allocating funds for those who lost someone during the terrorist attacks in 2001 is brought to the screen with sensitivity and care

Benjamin Lee

26, Jan, 2020 @1:31 PM