Two refugees battle trauma and an uncaring system in this ghost story
By Diana Beechener
The Majurs went through hell to reach the shores of England, but unfortunately hell followed them to their new home. Refugees from South Sudan, Bol (Sope Dirisu: Gangs of London) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku: Lovecraft Country) survived a horrifying boat voyage to beg for sanctuary in England.
But their ordeal isn’t over just because they’ve asked for refugee status in England.
The two are taken to a ramshackle public housing development and shown a house with a broken door, bugs crawling over rotten pizza and lights that don’t work. They’re told they’re lucky by a clueless case worker, who hopes they’ll be “one of the good ones.”
Bol is aware of their tenuous position and obsessively tries to fit in with English culture. He changes his hairstyle, shops for clothes to look less “African” and learns sports chants at a local pub. He is determined to show those deciding his fate that he’s “a good one” so they’ll let him stay.
Rial, however, isn’t as eager to assimilate. She doesn’t like the clothes Bol brings home, she feels like an unwelcome stranger whenever she ventures outside, and she dreams of those she left behind. She begins to wonder if all this pain and horror was a mistake, if they should have sacrificed so much just to get to a country that clearly doesn’t want them.
But culture shock isn’t the only thing plaguing the Majurs: there’s something in their house. At night, the walls whisper. Bol takes it as a threat. Rial believes it to be a warning. While Bol tears into the wall looking for their tormentors, Rial listens quietly to the words being spoken, her resolve crumbling like the plaster her husband is chipping away at. As the disturbances shift from whispers to apparitions, Rial believes they’ve been marked by a witch, one that demands blood to be satisfied.
A beautiful, chilling ghost story about the refugee experience, His House mingles genuine chills with a pointed story about shared trauma. This is a movie where the ghosts are not random poltergeists in the walls, but weighted reminders of all the horrors left behind. Writer/director Remi Weekes crafts a carefully layered drama filled with striking images and the stark truth of the immigrant story.
Weekes never makes any option for the characters appealing. In England, they’re harassed for their accents, told to go home or stop complaining, and followed in stores. In South Sudan, the inevitability of violent death drove them from their lives. They are, in many ways, still in the ocean after their boat capsized, struggling to breathe as life pulls them beneath the waves.
The film features superb cinematography from Jo Willems (See). Reality blurs with memories and supernatural elements – eyes appearing in walls, the ocean suddenly seeping around their feet. There’s a frightening beauty in nearly every frame, the world both terrible and wonderful all at once.
At the heart of His House are two powerful performances that speak to a couple reeling from loss and trauma, as well as steeped in years of love and commitment. Dirisu’s Bol is a man fraying at the edges. He’s convinced himself if he muscles through, assimilates fully, that the voices will stop and he’ll be accepted. It’s a portrait of a brittle man who has nothing but blind hope left. Mosaku’s Rial is his perfect opposite. She resents being made to grovel for scraps. Her quiet simmering resentment is what leads her to let the voices in. It’s a quiet, but deeply moving performance that is astounding to watch.
Though the witching season is over, the ghosts in His House aren’t here for scares. This is a movie about the things that haunt us all—things you can’t get rid of with an exorcism and a Ouija board.
Streaming on Netflix.
Great Drama * PG-13 * 93 mins.