[Sundance Film Festival 2020] HIS HOUSE is Equal Parts Terrifying and Heartbreaking

The new wave of modern horror is a playground for minority voices and their stories, making for a patchwork quilt of fantastic cinema from almost every angle. However, the refugee voice has been fairly subdued, if not outright absent—until now. HIS HOUSE, from first time UK writer/director Remi Weekes, is a terrifying, heartbreaking treatise on PTSD, refugee trauma, racism, and the ghosts that haunt us in our most vulnerable hours.

HIS HOUSE tells the story of a young refugee couple (Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu) from South Sudan who arrive in the UK after surviving their over-crowded boat sinking into the sea, losing their daughter in the process. Three months of detention later, they’re released on a probationary asylum status and given a massive house just for the two of them. Everything seems to finally be turning around, but in the shadows, in the walls, something watches; something that’s followed them, something that wants them.

Weekes’ film is fundamentally about trauma, mental anguish, and the PTSD that haunts those who are forced to uproot their entire world and life only to face extreme prejudice, xenophobia, and racist microaggressions in an unknown country. Mosaku and Dirisu masterfully portray two opposing ends of the coping spectrum: Dirisu turns his back on the past, burns the memories away, and tries to pretend it never happened at all; Mosaku desperately clings to a past that is no longer there and, in their daughter’s case, one that is long dead.

It’s no easy feat, especially with the combative nature of the opposite ends of the traumatic spectrum and the degrees to which they lash out in a rabid need for self-preservation. But the actors excel, and the audience finds themselves both loving the characters’ tenacity and being frustrated by their stubbornness—back and forth like the rocking boat the couple escaped on. Every moment feels genuine and powerful, and it could be said that any human with experience with PTSD would find their portrayals heartbreakingly accurate.

Part of the genius of HIS HOUSE also lies in Remi Weekes’s seamless blend of real-world atrocity and horror with supernatural terror. One is not the cause or the symptom of the other, and neither can ever truly be banished or forgotten, only lived with in an uneasy truce that can always break down again. They exist as one, in tandem, the mental and the physical results of the kind of pain and fear thousands of people experience daily on a global scale; people who should be treated a lot better than they are.

In the era of Brexit, migrant detention camps, and mounting global atrocity on all continents, HIS HOUSE is an important and even necessary piece of cinematic labor. Perhaps, through the shared catharsis horror can bring to those who view it, people may be able to understand each other better, feel each other better, and—one could dare hope—respect each other better.

HIS HOUSE has several more screenings at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and has been picked up for distribution by Netflix.

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