His House (2020)
Updated: Jun 2
In honor of Black History month I wanted to watch movies that featured Black creators, actors, and stories. His House (2020) directed by Remi Weekes, starring Wunmi Mosaku and Sope Dirisu tells the tale of African refugees who face horrors in and outside of their home upon immigrating to London, England. The scares in this movie made me jump and gasp while the racism and disrespect that Rial and Bol Majur faced angered me but unfortunately did not surprise.
Bol and Rial migrate under strenuous conditions as two tribes have begun killing one another in their home of Sudan. During their journey their daughter, Nyagek, played by Malaika Abigaba, falls out of their boat into the English Channel and drowns. They then spend time in a detention center facing a subpar living situation while they struggle with PTSD symptoms from the trauma they endured during their travels and loss. Both are granted asylum from a less than sympathetic or interested board and taken to their accommodation on the outskirts of London. Their social worker goes as far as to tell them that they seem like "one of the good ones" and by following the strict and impossible guidelines while living off of 75 pounds a week they will gain permanent residence.
Their new home is sparsely furnished and dilapidated, junk and trash from previous residents crowding even their yard. From the start of their new life it is made apparent that Rial views this as more of a sad circumstance than Bol. Bol seems to want to fully embrace their new culture and forget about the past entirely, moving on and having children. Rial is still grief ridden and wants to maintain her cultures ways despite having to live in the UK for safety purposes. Rial is treated with disrespect and cruelty while she attempts to go to the doctors from Black UK boys who make fun of her language and tell her to go back to Africa where Bol is called into a pub upon being recognized as a refugee and given a box of donations.
It's entirely possible that each character is meant to represent different experiences of refugees but it is not lost on me as a viewer that this is also a gender divide between treatment. As an African woman Rial is seen and treated as a Black woman in England and is not only facing racial discrimination but also gender discriminatory treatment as a result of this. Intersectionality points to their different experiences as examples of discriminatory treatment based on intersecting identities. While they both experience discrimination for being Black, refugees, and lower class Rial has the added layer of gender discrimination.
This is interesting when it plays out that Bol wants Rial to stop speaking their native language Dinka all together and strictly speak English as well as using silverware rather than her hands to eat. These elements of the film play into the emotional horror aspects that build upon the tension of the more traditional horror elements that are associated with their haunting.
The trauma that Rial and Bol must face is not limited to their journey getting to the UK and only continues and compounds upon the start of their new life there. This shines an interesting light on the misconception that refugees stories end upon arrival in another land.
As if it is not enough they are facing these new traumas that have come with their new home and the tragedy of losing their daughter they are also being haunted by what Rial calls an apeth or witch that has come from the ocean wanting them to pay a debt. Rial believes that if they pay this debt they will be lead back to their daughter, Nyagek.
This witch appears to them as bumps in the night and a rotting hole in their wall. Bol is braver than I and reaches into the hole at one point only to find a cord. He takes this cord and pulls it from the wall until it becomes a rope with seaweed and other ocean life attached to it. He pulls and pulls and pulls and the rope snags at the end with a doll tangled in it. A hand reaches from the wall and snatches the doll back inside. While this is building and happening a shadowy figure comes into the hallway behind Bol and slowly moves closer to him.
This is just on example of the jump scares this plot is sprinkled with. Each jump scare and escalation of the haunting builds on the tension not only between Bol and Rial but between the viewer and movie.
Unlike other reviews I feel that this movie is worth the watch and I don't wish to spoil all of the elements to encourage more people watch this movie. Currently His House (2020) has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and I believe that score is well earned. The acting is superb, the story is scary both morally and paranormally and holds the attention of the audience throughout. The story is well paced and ends in a way that I would not have guessed while watching. It has received praise in Rolling Stone for it's social conscious aspects and I couldn't agree more.
Winning multiple awards and nominations for the acting, directing, storytelling, production design, and effects this movie is a gem worth the watch.
Recommended score: 8.5/10