Many effective horror movies create a sense of tension and unease even before the horror kicks into high gear. Whether it’s The Torrance Family in The Shining or the crew isolated in the Arctic in The Thing, many horror films start off with an unsettling atmosphere, luring the viewer in before the monsters and madness set in.
Netflix’s new horror film His House does just this. The film begins with South Sudanese refugees Bol and Rial (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku, who you may recognize as Ruby from HBO’s Lovecraft Country) as they flee their war-torn country. (The conflict in the country, which began in 2013, is documented in journalist Nick Turse’s stirring account Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, which may serve as an effective companion piece to the film.) Rol and Bial are released from a detention center and placed in a home on the outskirts of London. Their caseworker Mark (Matt Smith, aka the 11th Doctor Who), wishes them good luck, and hopes they are “two of the good ones.”
Even before they experience bizarre, otherworldly forces, we the audience are terrified and hopeful for Bol and Rial. During their pilgrimage, they lose their daughter Nyagak, and as they try to acclimate to their new lives, her loss remains a burden on them both. Bol does his best to acclimate to his new life in England, yet Rial doesn’t want to let go of her natoots.
Then they start seeing people in the walls.
His House isn’t a typical haunted house story. Bol and Rial both have to deal with the trauma of not only leaving their war-torn country but also trying to acclimate to their new lives in London. This would be hard enough without ghosts living in their walls. Wunmi, in a striking scene, declares “that there is a great beast in this house…and it followed us here.”
His House takes a typical haunted house story and gives it an authentic indigenous twist. It is a genuinely striking movie, one that pits its characters not only against supernatural forces but against one another as well. The relationship between Bol and Rial deteriorates as the film progresses, but the relationship they have with their new home does as well. The film masterfully presents characters defined by the horrors of their past (including a stunning twist involving Nagyak) and the choices they make to confront that past. It is a horror film on various levels, and it makes for a truly breathtaking experience.