As halloween 2020 rolled around, Netflix released yet another chilling horror film to quench our seasonal thirst for all things dark and creepy. Unlike others in the genre though, His House, a film which tells the story of asylum seekers in the UK, promised to delve into some very real and scary issues – some of which are more terrifying than any haunted house could ever be.
When it was released, the trailer for Netflix’s His House, seemed to promise a film that not only had all the jump scares and thrills of your average horror movie, but also raised the topic of the difficulties that immigrants have to face in the UK. The trailer hinted at the way asylum seekers are othered. It hinted at gaslighting by immigration officials and the brutality of a system that seems designed to make those fleeing conflict in their own countries feel unwelcome.
The plot follows a Sudanese couple, Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), as they’re moved from a detention centre into their very own house, after making the journey from Africa in a harrowing boat journey. It quickly becomes clear, though, that the house is not exactly the safe haven they imagined.
The film, a striking debut by British writer-director Remi Weekes, revitalises the haunted house genre that Netflix seems so fond of, by seamlessly weaving between the ghost story narrative, and some very topical human drama. Not only do the house’s new occupants have to escape the grasping clutches of the things that go bump in the night, but they also have to avoid being deported by hovering government officials who seem more than eager to get rid of them.
The jump scares, when they begin, are relentless, and guaranteed to thrill any horror buff until they’re watching –with terrified glee– through their fingers. The framing of the entire story too is intriguing, weaving through real life and dreamscapes that often leave the viewer questioning whether we’re seeing the real life of the characters or the world in their minds.
And it’s no wonder that the viewer is confused. The characters themselves seem to live somewhere between the real world and their past – their reality permanently tainted by the trauma they’ve had to endure in their home country, and the horror of the journey to a safer future. This raises interesting discussions about the effects of trauma too, something that may be forgotten or ignored by those who would persecute asylum seekers as aliens in their country.
Despite all its strengths in highlighting the plight of asylum seekers, in comparison to all the trailer promised, His House fell slightly short. What appeared to be a psychological horror, emphasising the terrifying nature of things many humans have to deal with when fleeing their home country, became a lot more supernatural than the trailer suggested.
There’s something about the things that remain unseen – the hidden fears in the dark, and in the depths of the human mind – that makes them so much scarier than the monsters we actually bear witness to. Sometimes the idea of something sparks more terror than seeing its face. When His House begins to reveal the source of the creatures in the haunted house, and we see and learn more about them, they become less terrifying and rather more tiresome. We’ve seen monsters and magic before, and thus, their part in the narrative draws our attention away from what, the film’s message ostensibly was. Meaningful metaphor is made too literal, and shown too concretely. It’s a shame, because if it weren’t for that, this film would have been entirely different and, in my opinion, a lot stronger.
The lead characters and the bland English government housing setting (no haunted manors here) make His House unique from any horror I’ve seen before. It breaks my heart that a film I was so excited about turned out to be something completely different, but Weeks must be commended for putting a new spin on the genre.
His House gives me hope that there’ll be more innovation in the horror genre in the future, and that we’ll soon have more films like this in every genre, which depict the experiences of a vast range of people in a great number of new and interesting ways.