On this year’s Summer of Horror list, there are scant few movies that are available on Netflix. This has been the case for several years now. As their library gets slowly filled in with more and more of their own original content, it’s become clear that horror isn’t a priority for them (which is fine, because Shudder exists). But one movie from last year stood out big time for me on Netflix, with a whopping 100% Rotten Tomatoes score.
I’m suspicious of a score like that. For as many strides as the horror genre has made in the past 20 years, it still has one foot in the critical ghetto. For example, Hereditary has a mere 89% on the same site despite being one of the most acclaimed horror films of the decade. For a horror movie – or any genre movie for that matter – to reach 100% critical approval, there has to be some other element that persuades professional critics to grade the movie on a more generous curve. Usually it’s a timely, political element.
That isn’t meant to be an editorializing statement – it’s simply true. And fortunately, His House is well worth watching, even if 100% is a bit of an overwrought rating.
The film centers on a couple from Sudan, Bol and Rial, beginning just as they make a desperate escape from the country as the violence bubbles over. They wind up in England in a refugee program that dehumanizes them and treats them as prisoners, showing them zero empathy even as they confess that they lost their only daughter in the trek. This is the political element I was talking about (Brexit, etc.). It’s explicit, but not ham fisted. In fact, it’s genuinely heart breaking to see, especially knowing that this is likely close to the experience of most refugees in supposed “civilized” first world countries, the United States included. They’re treated with open contempt by many of the officials assigned to help them, and put under strict supervision that rivals most parole terms.
The (titular) house they are put into is filthy, drab, unfurnished, in a crap neighborhood, and barely has working electricity, and yet Bol and Rial are constantly told how lucky they are to have it. Bol is overcome with gratitude to simply have a measure of safety, and works hard to assimilate and fit in, but his wife is understandably struggling to find joy in the situation. Surviving a life filled with violence and the looming threat of death, making a desperate escape, only to be treated like prisoners and interlopers by everyone they interact with? That sucks.
Not only that, the freaking house is haunted! They both start hearing strange noises and whispers and seeing shadowy figures in the house that seem to be taunting them about their lost daughter and displaced lives. The haunting scenes in this movie call to mind many previous works, from The Babadook, to Terrified, to The Pact, to We Are Still Here. This is well-trodden territory, and though it is all well done and suitably creepy, it doesn’t actually offer anything groundbreaking besides a backstory rooted in African folklore about an “Apeth” – a kind of witch that comes to collect on a “life debt”, which is revealed in a pretty devastating third act twist.
As a horror movie, it’s pretty good, and likewise as a drama, pretty good. It adds up to roughly the sum of its parts. I love the haunted house genre and this one is well above average – certainly better crafted and more emotional than most of the stuff churned out by Blumhouse these days. It just might be a little too sad to warrant repeat viewings.