Directed By Remi Weekes
Starring – Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku, Matt Smith
The Plot – A refugee couple makes a harrowing escape from war-torn South Sudan, but then they struggle to adjust to their new life in an English town that has an evil lurking beneath the surface.
Rated TV-14 for violence, peril, and occasional adult language
– Meaningful horror. Many horror films these days are catching on to the sentiment that terrifying chills itself can only take you so far, and that the layers of depth from the movie’s social commentary makes it a truly compelling sit. In this regard, “His House garners an abundance of hefty themes, like cultural bias, sociological racism, and longing in regret, that proves it has a lot to say about its characters and surrounding world. In fact, because the screenplay never rests on its laurels by exploring the many avenues of predictable tropes and redundant cliches, it pays off in spades not only for your investment to the characters and their ensuing plight, but also in the chilling material, which does offer more than a few startling moments in its thick, unsettling atmosphere. Sure, the occasional jump scares are there, but they are earned in ways that don’t require an accompanying shrieking musical score to enhance the delivery, and don’t entirely rely on them on their way to making one of the more original haunted house narratives that I have ever seen.
– First delve. What Weekes lacks in experience as a first time director, he more than makes up for skillful execution, which is reflected throughout many aspects of the film that he influences. The obvious is the presentation, involving these long shot still frame compositions that sink under your skin when unabashedly focused on what lures in the enveloping darkness of this apartment. The editing is patient, refusing to ever give away even a second of the ominous momentum that weighs as prominently on us as the supernatural presence that continuously plagues our protagonists. But Weekes touches of professionalism isn’t just in the movie’s visual execution, but also in its thematic one, by fleshing out a fully fledged psychology for characterization that often has you questioning if what you’re seeing truly is real or an example of minds weighed heavily by past decisions and unfinished consequences. It cements this as a complete creative investment for Remi that solidifies him as a prominent visionary for the cinematic future, and keeps “His House” from ever feeling derivatively predictable in the hands of a director who consistently keeps you guessing.
– Disposition dynamic. Most of what makes Bol and Rial effective as indulging characters and a believable couple is this diverse illustration in their battles with grief that pays off immensely for the direction of the story. For Bol, he’s very much a man running from his past, complete with the yearning to build a new life and fit into it where society casts him. For Rial, she’s very much a strong willed woman whose refusal to fully conform makes her a devilishly delightful contrast to her male suitor. So much so that she runs towards the past, confronting it with a strength and unrelenting focus that affords her the will to mature and exercise the demons, literally or figuratively, that have followed her to another continent. These two clash on more than one occasion, leading to a struggle for power that not only tests the love they have for each other, but also defines them in ways that evolve their characters naturally throughout the film.
– Unforgiving atmosphere. The culmination of the movie’s many aspects of foreboding production is the thick cloud of pessimistic fog that hangs persistently throughout its setting, which weighs heavily on Bol and Rial’s many experiences. As to where most haunted house films allow the capability of the patrons to leave at any time, this couple can’t as asylum seekers, forcing them to play by rules that weren’t designed in their favor to begin with. On top of this, the cold and sometimes hostile treatment by the surrounding neighbors and townsfolk supplants this element of loneliness for Bol and Rial that gives way to an abundance of vulnerability for both of them, and preserves many moments of social reflection that we can relate to more in 2020 than ever before. It proves there’s no safety or sanctuary for them inside or out of the house, playing heavily towards the psychological breakdown that isn’t a matter of if but when between them.
– Stunning cinematography. There’s no shortage of ambitiously stunning textures to supplant sequences of amazement throughout the film’s dark and gritty material. Cinematographer Jo Willems, the same man who brought to life the pages of The Hunger Games trilogy, instills an immersive quality to the many diverse locations, like authenticity in the form of moonlight luminating a shipwreck at sea, or a war torn Sudan with the dust circling the constant pandemonium, that puts us front and center in the heat of the moments. This allows “His House” to transcend its minimal budget with a combination of dream and drab that never sacrifices the big screen encompassing, but beyond that attains a level of complexity in compositions that harvests unnerving consistency, and compliments the substance in social commentary with a style so registering we practically breathe it in.
– Whispers in the wind. The entrancing sound mixing weaves a spell of disdain over its audience so subtle yet commanding that it practically becomes a full bodied character interacting with our two protagonists. Similar to how “The Haunting of Hill House” maintained uncertainty in what may or may not be moving in the shadows, so too does “His House” with the overwhelming silence that defies this couple’s inescapable predicament. In such, we are treated to mixing that barely registers in volume capacity, but when it does strikes a nerve of confirmation within us that conveys this place as anything but normal. The distortion of the mixing succeeds with plenty of echoing and voice altering, which alludes that what these two are dealing with isn’t entirely human, and the editing is sharp as a tack, meditating the proper influence so as not to override the attention of its victims in frame.
– Minimal special effects. It’s not often that I can commend a movie for not oversaturating the product with artificial properties that stand out like a sore thumb when compared to the textures and coloring of the world surrounding them. Thankfully, Weekes grip on the presentation is as good as previously advertised, and his requirement of computer generation is minimal at best and effective at least. In fact, a majority of the computer generation comes in the form of the jarring movements of this entity, and not necessarily the bodily encompassing, which obviously stems from an actual human person. Honestly, I would give this movie enough credit for keeping a majority of the effects work practical, but it deserves even more when it can craft artificiality that seamlessly sync’s up to what persists surrounding it, and like the spirit haunting this house, thrives in the darkness you can’t look away from.
– Breakthrough performances. I know very little of the work between Dirisu and Mosaku, but something tells me that is about to change thanks in whole to the spell-binding performances that each of them grant us. For my money, it’s Mosaku who steals the show, outlining a character evolution that grows and matures in the same vein as the wealth of knowledge that we the audience are treated in the allowance of second half information that changes the game. Wunmi’s heart and devotion given to the role nourishes our desire to see a positive female influence in cinema, but what most impressed me was the strength in standing up for herself, which led to some impressive long-winded diatribes sporting a splash of cynicism. Dirisu also rides the waves of emotional complexity, peeling through onions of sanity for a world that is quite literally crumbling at the seams. He wears the weight of a regretful decision between them with an operating registry that balances guilt and shame, making for a wild card of a lead who is quite literally his own worst enemy.
– Sloppy transitioning. For my money, it’s the little things in between the big moments that could use a bit more refining and time to materialize naturally, allowing their impact to be felt more resoundedly. The biggest example is the disdain between Bol and Rial, which feels like it comes out of nowhere early in the second act for the sake of conflict, only moments after they shared moments of supportive unity. The dream/reality transitions are also a bit faulty and lacking of clarity even after a scene has taken place. I know this intentionally plays into the clouded reality of what is playing out in the experiences of the duo, but for us the audience it’s the same ambiguity that doesn’t necessarily progress the scares enough into succeeding at being anything memorable, and dooms enough of these middle movie moments into being a series of dry moments that never fully commit themselves to be terrifying.
– The ending. Easily the weakest element of the movie to me, and one that took my final grade down an entire point for how tucked in neatly it squared everything away. My problem isn’t at all with the third act twist, which I felt gave justification to everything from the actions of the characters to the intentions of the antagonist, but rather with the climax conflict, which somehow goes from being psychological the entire movie to materializing into something physical before our very eyes. On top of that, the resolution itself is anti-climatic and overall disappointing for the force that was promised throughout the film. It reeks of a studio influenced ending that was afraid to take chances, and left me with this taste in my mouth that was a bit disgusted and underwhelming from the piper that a certain character never fully pays.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+