His House (dir. Remi Weekes, 2020) – A refugee couple escapes from war-torn South Sudan and begins a new life in an English town, where they struggle to adjust to their new home.
War refugees Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) have arrived on British soil. When they are granted probation asylum for 3 months, they make clear of their gratitude in tears. They embrace their new home, despite it being distant from the city and infested with pests.
They settle in, only to start hearing whispers and seeing shadows in the hallways. Baggage is not all they brought back with them from the war zone. An apeth, also known as a night witch in Dinka folklore, has come to claim its debt.
Interestingly, His House makes the presence of the creature unambiguous. It is not imagined but there with them, plaguing them with terrifying scenes in the dark. The creative imagery goes beyond scare tactics. Allowing fragments of their memories into their present, director Remi Weekes shows how the couple’s past never really leaves them, in spite of what others may see on the outside.
Behind closed doors, Bol and Rial find the ones they left behind in South Sudan staring back at them. They see the harrowing vision of their child Ngayak (Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba), whom they lost at sea during their escape. In portraying this grief and survivor’s guilt, Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku are phenomenal.
We see how alone and adrift they are, with no one to reach out to. When Bol seeks the help of their case officer Mark (Matt Smith), he only assures them that they are the lucky ones to have a home that is bigger than his.
The nuances in the brilliant screenplay draw the clear line between us and them, which often comes across subtly in such displays of passive aggression. Rial also experiences the more blatant acts of racism when a trio of teenagers mocks her accent and shouts at her to “go back to fuckin’ Africa”.
While Rial becomes keenly aware that the community sees them as outsiders, Bol continues to seek acceptance everywhere he looks. He tries his best to fit in, singing football anthems that he barely understands and emulating models on mall posters. In how they experience their new world and react to it, the tension between them grows.
As the strange occurrences intensify, we get to know the reasons behind the haunting and come to see why Rial is unfrightened of ghosts. The apeth haunts those who steal, she explains, making it clear that their own conscience has been sullied by their past deeds. In a way, she feels that they deserve what has happened to them.
The eventual revelation of what had truly happened is unexpected and heartwrenching. Remi Weekes reveals layers beneath layers in his story and hence, characters that have us sympathetic and horrified at the same time.
The lurking supernatural terror is not forgotten amidst this dramatic turn. How the apeth is unable to hurt them, does not make it less threatening. Just because something cannot hurt you physically, does not mean it can’t crawl under your skin and tear you apart from the inside.
Beneath all of its rumbling growls and rattling bone, the monster is a powerful message in itself. The apeth makes a disquieting metaphor for the inescapable trauma that Bol and Rial must confront yet know that they must live with, even if it grows quiet in time.
Perfecting the balance between a poignant migrant drama and supernatural horror, His House metaphorises trauma in powerful terms.