Isolation and guilt
Today I wanted to write to you about the new horror film His House.
His House was released on Netflix in the UK on October 30th and was directed by Remi Weekes who also wrote the screenplay.
This film is a perfect combination of supernatural horror and social pressures. It is told from a viewpoint we don’t see very often, at least not one I have been exposed to very often. The story chills the audience on a multitude of different levels, from the supernatural level to the fear of war-torn countries, the fear of your own morality slipping away, the fear of losings one’s identity, the guilt of those who survive and the fear of isolation and imprisonment. All of this is cleverly woven together to tell a truly immersive story.
Plot (here be some spoilers, though I have tried to keep them light)
Bol and Rial are refugees from the South Sudan, fleeing with their daughter Nyagak. Their daughter does not survive their journey to England where they are granted temporary asylum and housed in London.
Bol tries to assimilate to English culture while Rial struggles and soon both of them notice supernatural goings on and see Nyagak and a man who both seem to live in their walls. Rial almost instantly knows that this is an apeth (night witch) and says they need to repay the debt they owe to the witch, but cannot identify what the debt is. Bol is not convinced by this and thinks its just a curse, he burns all of their things but to no avail. Bol then tries to have them moved but also fails.
Bol then tears apart the house trying to find the people in the walls, their social worker discovers the damage and this risks them being deported.
Things deteriorate between the couple and Bol tries to bargain with the apeth. Rial recalls how she and Bol left the Sudan and how they had to effectively kidnap Nyagak in order to escape as only people with children were being accepted. Bol tries again to repay the debt owed to the apeth, but is rescued by Rial. They both decide to remain in the house and build a life there, living with the ghosts of those they left behind.
The fact that this story is told by refugees is, I think, incredibly important. In the UK we currently have a very polarising debate about refugees and immigration, both legal and illegal. We have boats crammed with people regularly sinking in the channel, and men, women and infants drown, washing up on the British and French shores. It’s a heart breaking situation.
I’m not going to start addressing the various arguments about immigration here, this is not the platform for that, but I will say that something that I have noticed is that when we talk about refugees we rarely talk about them like people. Its not until someone posts a photo of a drowned child that we, just for a moment, see a human. Even then just one look at the comments section on these articles and you’ll see that not many people saw a human even then.
This film is a wonderful way of humanising the often faceless refugees. After a little while you stop seeing refugees and just see Bol and Rial, they are just people and that is a wonderful thing. Though the film does not stop reminding you that Bol and Rial’s personhood is rarely acknowledged. They are literal prisoners in the house, and their social worker, there to help them, hopes they are two of the ‘good ones’.
The film also illustrates the fear of losing your identity. While Bol tries to assimilate to English culture Rial struggles, her fear of losing her own culture, who she is and her personhood are very well portrayed. Her fear and isolation balance Bol’s fear of being sent back to the Sudan. His almost eagerness to disregard who he was and burn everything they brought is a stark contrast. Though it is interesting to consider if Bol’s fear is genuine fear of being sent home or if it is more that he is afraid of going back after Nyagak died so they could be there. His guilt rules him.
Which leads nicely onto my next point, survivors guilt. Living through horrors is in itself traumatic, surviving those horrors when others did not can lead to survivors guilt. The Apeth is clearly a representation of the survivors guilt that both Rial and Bol feel, having not only left people behind them in their flight, but also having kidnaped a child only to have the child die during the ocean crossing. The fact that Bol and Rial are trapped in the house where the guilt they feel has manifested as something living in the walls is very clever. IT shows the oppressive nature and very real threat they both feel.
It’s a wonderful representation, showing how it is all around them constantly, eating away at them and that only when they have both accepted this and try to live with it do things settle a little. You cannot get rid of something like this, you can only live with it. It puts me in mind of another horror film where the supernatural entity represented a mental health issue, The Babadok. In that film the same conclusion was reached with the Babadok (a symbol for depression) forever living in the basement.
Over all His House is an amazing film with a very important story to tell.
I cannot recommend it highly enough.