Netflix’s His House, released for streaming on January 27, 2020, is a thoroughly conventional haunted house film with some genuinely unique new trappings, which left me confused if I took anything away from the film. The story focuses on a refugee couple who, having escaped from war-torn South Sudan, find themselves in government housing. However, it seems that the ghosts they carry around with them from their former home have followed them to their new one. The chic motif of the haunted house thriller these days to have ghosts represents forms of trauma or other mental anguish. In the case of His House, the film deals with the protagonist’s emotional trauma (i.e., PTSD) and their survivor’s guilt.
While a protagonist’s traumatic past is a standard backbone for many stories, not in the least limited to horror films, the aspect of survivor’s guilt that the information engaged with was pretty fascinating to me since it’s not a story that’s been told often (or at all). The performances are the key thing when it comes down to this aspect of the film. The emotional storytelling is told more through the pacing and rhythm of the film’s many drawn out and quietly contemplative scenes than through expository dialogue.
His House is very much a slow-burn film, but one that only lasts about 90-minutes, making you wonder how much plot they developed the film from since many scenes are relatively drawn out and repetitive. In all honesty, very little happens in the film, but yet I never felt bored (although neither was I on the edge of my seat). I was never especially engaged with the horror, but the strength of the acting and the story’s emotional complexity was enough to keep me engaged with the film, at least as a drama.
The horror aspect of the film could not be more run-of-the-mill. Lots of disappearing monsters, things moving out of focus in the background, and CGI body-horror. Sound cues served mainly to accentuate jump scares, and for the most part, felt incredibly out of place/cheesy (children’s laughter, weird metallic screeches, all pretty uninspired sound design). However, at least the African-themed soundtrack deserves a shout-out for keeping things interesting on the audio front.
His House is more of a think-piece than anything. It impressively juggles many facets of the refugee experience that is horrendously underrepresented in mainstream films. It’s not often that a wide-release like this can be simultaneously genuinely emotional and political without resorting to ham-fisted techniques. Give it a watch if you’re looking for more of a think-piece than a horror film, and I don’t think you’ll regret it.
PS: It’s only now that I’ve written all of the above that I looked online to see some other critics’ reviews of the film and was surprised to see a solid 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. Not to imply that the film doesn’t deserve positive reviews, but in all honesty, I thought that the pacing and subject matter would result in a broader split in opinion from critics.
PPS: I know I said in my last post that I would put out something on director Robert Eggers this week. I’m still working on it! Stay tuned.