Haunted houses and Halloween go hand in hand. Fairground ghost houses, with their flickering lights and carnies dressed in store bought costumes, have been making hearts race and teens scream for decades but a new movie, “His House,” now streaming on Netflix, brings those cheesy thrills into a terrifyingly real world.
Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) are refugees from war torn South Sudan. Their journey to freedom is fraught. They’re crammed into busses and pick-up trucks, then loaded on to a leaky boat in rough waters. At sea they lose their young daughter who drowns when the boat flips.
They survive and land in an English detention centre, living there until temporary permission to stay in the U.K. is granted. While they wait on their claim of asylum, they’re moved into a dilapidated community housing. “You will be sent to a home of our choosing,” they are told. “You must reside at this address. You must not move from this address. This is your home now.”
The filthy fixer-upper (to put it mildly) has holes in the walls, garbage piled out front and an evil secret, possibly a spirit from their former country. “There is a great beast in this house,” says Rial. “It followed us here. It is filling this house with ghosts to torment my husband.”
What follows is a classic haunted house film with a deep subtext that breathes new life into the genre’s desiccated old lungs. Set against a background of cultural displacement, survivors’ guilt, and the psychological wounds of a life spent in trauma, “His House” is no “Amityville Horror.” Sure, strange things happen in the home. Voices come from behind the drywall, a spirit appears and dreams manifest themselves in the most horrific of ways, but the context is different.
British writer-director Remi Weekes knows his way around a supernatural thrill but he also weaves in real life experiences of racism, otherness and genocidal suffering into the story, forming a rich tapestry of chills—some from beyond our mortal coil, some not—that move the tired old haunted house horror story to new, deeply felt places. It may drag in spots but “His House” is a thrilling rethink of what the genre can be.