Director: Remi Weekes
Starring: Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu and Matt Smith
Cinematographer: Jo Willems
The refugee crisis is an ongoing concern for millions of lives around the world. Asylum seekers are not only aiming to escape from dangerous conditions and/or difficulties. But if fortunate enough to reach a destination worthy enough to call home, they often times are faced with discrimination and xenophobia.
In his directorial debut, Remi Weekes visualizes and represents these horrors in such profounding ways. His narrative centers around these concepts with bold combinations of supernatural terror and emotional trauma. Perfectly balanced with storytelling and entertainment, His House is simply a must-watch and one of the best of Sundance 2020.
Weekes’ story centers around a Sudanese couple who arrives in a quiet town of Britain for their “happily ever after.” But as they attempt to settle into their new home, they realize that they can’t outrun their past or adjust to their present. From the traumas of their literal nightmares to the cross-cultural misunderstandings they encounter, not all is as it seems… It’s worse.
One of the most fascinating uses of horror in His House stems from an emotional beginning that Weekes incorporates to get audiences invested in the story. We immediately learn that life before and after the couples’ escape will not be easy, as we’re first introduced to them at a holding center. After being released, they’re warned to follow all of the rules and be “one of the good ones.” Further interactions with their case worker would lead audiences to think that this will be a battle against the xenophobic. And you’d be right to think that. They are given a house with close-to-impossible living conditions with neighbors who continuously and relentlessly give them uncomfortable stares. But the horrors don’t end there.
Weekes’ script also addresses the themes of cultural survival. Here, Mosaku and Dirisu’s characters are on the opposite ends of the acceptance spectrum. The wife (Mosaku) misses her home, but she’s comfortable in her own skin and not belonging to one place. Her husband (Dirisu), on the other hand, desires acceptance as we see him singing local songs at a bar or dressing like a white family from a clothing store. With their contrasting viewpoints regarding their new home comes a competing interpretation of their nightmares. And here’s where His House transcends the meaning of true horror. Weekes’ ability to infuse terror realistically and with clairvoyance is a true delight. Things like fading between past and present allows audiences to question what’s reality versus a nightmare. But the cinematic brilliance and achievement of supporting these with an emotional core truly elevates the film to new heights.
Another great aspect of His House is the way Weekes uses the darkness as both a figurative and literal fear. The refugee couple is haunted by the ghosts of their pasts while these very same ghosts haunt their minds. It’s a fascinating approach to use for a refugee story because the conditions from which people flee can be compared to living nightmares. But the couples’ hold onto their survivor’s guilt manifests itself through the ghosts, making for an extraordinary and insightful commentary on refugee life and a terrifying watch.
But even ignoring the fact that this is a horror film through and through, the story and emotional core are present from beginning to end. Even as the story unfolds and more is revealed about this Sudanese couple, audiences are forced to realize the origins of their despair, which results in an experience that simply demands sympathy. From the evil glares from their caucasian neighbors and mockery from even those who look like them, these are just some of the awful things they have to experience in a lonely life of alienation and discrimination.
As the film approaches its ending, director Remi Weekes avoids falling into the typical traps that many horror films do. Instead, His House confronts the issues tormenting the refugees’ minds and safe haven, ultimately saying a great deal about healing. When haunted by the burdens of your past, you can let it overcome you or let it catch up to you in order to begin the process of healing. For refugees, it’s not an easy task or concept, but living a life free of horrors is something everyone equally deserves.