His House


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

His House
"The film is worth watching for the good work from its two leads." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

There are few things that make people feel as vulnerable as having to leave behind everything that they're familiar with, against their will, and then being placed in a position where they cannot rebuild. When this film opens, South Sudanese refugees Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) are still residents in a UK detention camp and having to deal with the daily fear that their asylum claims will be rejected and they will be sent to their deaths. Things start to look up when they are told that they will be getting a house. Though it's in terrible condition and though they won't be allowed to work, it is perhaps an indication that their troubles are coming to an end. All they have to do is stay there.

Grief has a way of sneaking up on people just when life begins to improve. Rial tries to make the new house nice by spreading a bright rug on the mouldering floorboards and setting up some candles. She cooks favourite dishes, doing her best to set her husband at ease. Although they encounter racism in the local area, Bol soon discovers that for many men, taking the right stance on sport is more important than having white skin, and manages to find companionship. But there is someone who should be with them who is not, and in the resulting void, strange things take shape. Guilt and horror and long-repressed fear come bubbling up to the surface. With no other Sudanese people nearby, only the ghosts of the past understand. Bol and Rial experience separate but related forms of paranoia, and gradually come to believe that they have been bewitched.

Copy picture

The question of what's real and what's mental illness is teased here in just the manner you'd expect, but with the added complication that the couple's beliefs make it harder for them to meet with the approval of their immigration supervisors. It's difficult to integrate when you're suffering from complex post traumatic stress disorder; difficult, too, when white people are quick to diagnose as madness what is simply an expression of cultural difference. The only real reference points the couple have through which to work out what s an is not real are one another. Because Bol is larger and stronger, Rial becomes afraid when he loses control, and the bond on which they both depend comes under serious strain.

It is this weight of real life horror that sustains what is in many other ways a mediocre genre film. Beyond the central idea there is little structure to the plot, and too much uncertainty discourages audience investment. The imagery designed to disturb is routine stuff and never comes close to the chills delivered by a gang of local youths who casually make it clear that they don't like foreigners. The film's best hope lies in the fact that its subject matter is likely to attract viewers who don't often watch this kind of fare and don't realise when they are being short changed.

Despite its failings, the film is worth watching for the good work from its two leads, and because there are some sorts of horror that don't get talked about nearly as much as they should.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2021
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A young refugee couple makes a harrowing escape from war-torn South Sudan, but then they struggle to adjust to their new life in a small English town that has an evil lurking beneath the surface.

Director: Remi Weekes

Writer: Felicity Evans, Toby Venables, Remi Weekes

Starring: Matt Smith, Javier Botet, Wunmi Mosaku, Cornell John, Emily Taaffe, Vivien Bridson, Sope Dirisu, Andy Gathergood, Robert Ryan, Ty Hurley, Swaylee Loughnane, Kevin Layne, Rene Costa, Gamba Cole, Matt Townsend

Year: 2020

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Sundance 2020

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