His House (UK, 2020)
I was going to review His House for last year’s October Horror Movie Challenge but I ran out of month. One of the hardest parts of choosing these films is whittling down my average shortlist of around 70 films to the 31 I’ll actually have time to watch and review. There are just too many interesting horror films out there to keep up with.
Seeing how well His House was received made me regret my decision not to include it last time. So, once again, I am using this month’s selections as an opportunity to right wrongs. Given the film in question, that seems oddly appropriate.
His House is currently streaming on Netflix in the UK.
We are introduced to Bol and Rial as they flee bloody conflict in South Sudan. They attempt to cross the English Channel on an overcrowded boat full of refugees, but hit trouble. While they survive, many are drowned, including their young daughter Nyagak.
After being released from a detainee centre in England, the couple are given accommodation in a rough area of London. Their new home is large but squalid, leaving the couple to deal with festering rubbish, peeling wallpaper and strange sounds coming from the walls.
As Bol tries to find a place in the local community, actively attempting to assimilate, Rial barely leaves the house and holds onto her past for dear life. This conflict drives a wedge between them even as things get weird within the house.
Although the house appears to be haunted, with sinister figures appearing in the darkness and scurrying through the walls at night, these ghosts prove to be ones Bol and Rial brought with them. Chief amongst these spectres is Nyagak, whose rage leads her to stalk and attack Bol.
As Bol faces down these ghosts, he starts tearing into the walls with a hammer, searching for their source. When their housing officer sees the damage, he threatens to launch an investigation. This would almost certainly lead to deportation and the risk of violent death.
Eventually, Rial deduces that there is a night witch, living within their house, conjuring up all these ghosts. This witch seems to want something from Bol, but what is really driving its hunger for blood and vengeance?
Like so many films that blend real atrocities and trauma with more supernatural threats, the ghosts of His House almost dilute the horror. While they pose a real threat to Bol in particular, they seem mild compared to the bloodshed we see in flashbacks to South Sudan and the terrors of the boat crossing. Rial even address this explicitly, telling her husband, “After all we’ve endured, after what we have seen, what men can do, you think it is bumps in the night that frighten me? You think I can be afraid of ghosts?”
The more grounded horrors don’t stop when Bol and Rial leave the detention centre. Almost everything about their treatment is dehumanising, from the exit interview conducted by a contemptuously bored panel to the way their belongings are packaged in bin bags and tossed on the pavement. As the couple try to adapt to their new environment, they face everything from a well-meaning doctor’s awkward misunderstanding of the cultural significance of Rial’s scars to a group of black teenagers who mock Rial’s accent and tell her to go back to Africa. The housing officer, in turn, tells Bol to “Be one of the good ones.” It almost feels like a relief when we go back to the ghosts.
Still, the ghosts of His House are pretty damn scary. Not only do they look disturbing but they only manifest in the dark. At times, the witch takes control of the house’s electrics, plunging Bol into darkness and vulnerability. These ghosts don’t just haunt — their manifestation is physical and they can inflict real harm.
Maybe it was all the hype or maybe it was anticipating the film for a year, but I was a little let down by His House. Don’t get me wrong — I still enjoyed it very much. It’s a clever, often scary blend of horrors that kept me engaged throughout. I just went into the film expecting it to be one of my picks of the month and left thinking it was merely above average.
One of the biggest problems is that the story pulls in too many directions at once. We have sharp commentary on British racism and the treatment of refugees, a couple attempting to maintain their dignity and identities while assimilating into a new culture, the literally haunting effects of PTSD, and a sort of redemption arc where Bol faces the sins of his past. Each of these is a compelling storyline in its own right, but the combined effect is too muddled for any one to truly stand out. The redemption aspect, in particular, risks actively undermining the other strands. This is a shame, as there is a lot to enjoy and admire in the narrative chaos.
Despite these faults, I’d still unreservedly recommend His House to anyone looking for a ghost story with a bit more depth. It’s an entertaining, creepy film that keeps you thinking even as it tries to scare the more primal parts of your brain. I just feel that a bit more script editing could have turned it into something remarkable.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker/The Mutations (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!