By Nadia Dalimonte
Wunmi Mosaku and Sope Dirisu in His House (2020)
“Your ghosts follow you. They never leave you. They live with you. It’s when I let them in, I could start to face myself.”
The horror of His House, the directorial debut feature by Remi Weekes, is deeply embedded in reality. The grief and fight for acceptance that the film’s protagonists experience bring a level of fear that can’t be shaken by a change of setting. After escaping from war-torn South Sudan and losing their daughter at sea, a young Black couple move to a new country in the hopes of being born again in a new life. Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) and Bol (Sope Dirisu) Majur are granted release from a detention center and are placed on bail in a small English town. A hasty social worker (Matt Smith) shows them around an address chosen for them, that they must not move from. “Make it easy for people…be one of the good ones,” he smirks. From the very beginning, the couple are made to feel they not only need to fit in and get along, but they must do so without challenging the hand that fed them. As the couple start to settle in at their new house, they soon discover a witchy unspeakable evil lurking behind the walls.
Weekes directs and writes a story so utterly terrifying in its humanity and in the notion that the ghosts residing within the Majurs are far more destructive than any haunted house could be. Trauma and grief manifest in different spaces and take on forms specific to the characters. On the couple’s first few nights at the new house, illuminated visions of the life they left behind are let in. Distant voices, rustling, loud thuds, and whispers from behind the walls create a constant feeling that the characters are never alone in any given moment. A particular voice whispers to Bol that he must repay what he owes, that he took what did not belong to him. The film plays with setting and time, weaving from memories to present day to manipulated horror-infused memories. There’s a stunning scene at the halfway point that places the couple’s dinner table in the middle of the sea, as ghosts rise from the water.
This sea scene is one of many examples of vivid imagery that shows how the horror elements are personally connected to Rial and Bol. Both characters experience different manifestations, and have different views on what they should do. Bol believes all the items they brought with them into the new home are cursed and must be destroyed. He is searching for a fresh start in a house that is rightfully his. Rial believes the story of the night witch, whereby an apeth has risen from the sea and followed them to the house. “It” speaks to her, saying they don’t belong at this house and she can get her daughter back if she fulfills a certain task. The couple’s contrasting views make the film intriguing to watch, bringing a strong sense of mystery as to how the rest of the story will play out. Mosaku and Dirisu are both fantastic in their roles, especially the former whose final act is among some of the best acting of the year.
His House is not simply a story of a haunted house with scary voices. The characters are haunted by ghosts of the past that invade their minds completely and relentlessly, following wherever their thoughts go. Manifestations of trauma engulf the house, challenging the characters to fight the past and adjust to the present day where not much has changed. Remi Weekes has an incredible voice and His House is one of the best debuts in recent years.