The ghosts and demons that regularly haunt people in supernatural stories are rarely as terrifying as those that are generated by their victims’ own bad experiences. That’s the central theme of Remi Weekes’ assured ‘ghost’ story, His House, newly arrived on Netflix. It relates a powerful – sometimes terrifying – tale that uses all the familiar tropes of the classic ghost story, yet offers us something more than the average scare-fest.
Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wummi Mosaku) are asylum seekers, newly arrived in Britain after a nightmarish experience in their native South Sudan. They have managed to survive a perilous sea crossing, suffering a terrible loss along the way. They now reside in a detention centre that is, to all intents and purposes, a prison. But fresh hope arrives in the offer of a home of their own, a place where they can live while they wait to see if they will be granted sanctuary.
They are met at the property by housing officer, Mark Essworth (Matt Smith), a man so ground down by the drudgery of his work that he seems barely capable of summoning the energy to answer their questions. But he does remind them that they are not, under any circumstances, allowed to live anywhere else until their case is closed. Which wouldn’t be a problem… but, as the couple soon discover, something malevolent is living behind the mouldering walls that enclose them… something that is rapidly marshalling its powers.
This is a lean and compelling narrative, which somehow manages to find fresh strengths in familiar techniques, and there’s a major surprise waiting in the wings, that – once revealed – leads viewers to reassess what they think they already know. Jo Willems’ cinematography offers memorable imagery and some of the dream landscapes he creates linger in the mind long after the closing credits.
His House not only provides a cracking thrill ride, packed with cleverly executed jump scares, it also makes you think deeply about the plight of people obliged to run from real life terrors, and the weight of the baggage that inevitably accompanies such circumstances.