Bol and Rial, a recently arrived refugee couple from South Sudan, have finally been accepted for probational asylum and are given a home. Their first few days are spent trying to assimilate and they are simply excited to have escaped their war-torn country despite the less-than-standard living conditions they’ve been given. As they become settled, reminders of their guilt and the horrors they faced in South Sudan come back to haunt them in the form of witches and ghosts, all while trying to keep up the appearance of assimilating into a wholly different culture. This His House movie review will contain SPOILERS.
Ghosts and monsters in horror films are often mean to represent guilt, hate, shame, or some other internalized demon a character may have. Yet, those feelings often come second to the monster itself – the focus being more on our fear than theirs. The ghosts that plague Bol and Rial are far more representative of the themes than the fear factor. The movie brilliantly gives each instance of horror a meaning to their forced assimilation. These moments ask the audience – how can someone be forced to act and assimilate naturally, be told to be calm and normal and unexceptional, all while dealing with survivors guilt, forms of PTSD, and the confusion that comes with culture shock.
The film also has layers besides the themes and horror. It ties these ghosts into different mythologies within the characters’ culture – the witches that haunt those who have survived these traumatic events and left others behind. It strays into more experimental territory with the dreams of a floating room and the characters walking through a doorway into flashbacks of their time in South Sudan. While this isn’t even close to the high avant-garde territory, it is far better and more commendable than the typical faux-experimentalism of more Hollywood-esque horror films. The humor was great as well with Bol’s forced smiles, pretending he was adjusting, being intensely relatable. Finally, the actors portray some incredible emotions even outside of the scarier moments – I’m recalling Bol going upstairs alone in the new house and crying out of both joy and sadness for how far they’ve come. They were truly some of the most real moments I have recently seen.
The movie does have its flaws, first and foremost being the conclusive speech by Bol, restating and explaining the themes of the movie as if we wouldn’t have been able to get them ourselves. It was a surprisingly amateurish mistake to include, and although it is a directorial debut, I was surprised to see it based on the most astute script that came before it. And the last scene with the witch actually coming out of the ground to possess Bol felt a little odd, possibly because it just looked out of place, but also due to it messing with the more emotional moments that preceded it.
Overall, His House is an amazingly crafted horror film filled with cultural commentary of a group that is rarely explored in the genre, let alone any film today. The acting, humor, experimental shots, and mythology, all add to these themes of alienation and grief in a time when one is being forced to act more “normal” than they ever have before. It’s a wonderful film that, though it had minor issues, received so much less recognition during the 2020 film awards than it deserved. It was better than the other 2020 films I saw which got far more recognition, namely Nomadland and Minari – and though that may be a pretty controversial statement, I stand by it wholeheartedly.
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