TV-14. I don't know how this is TV-14, but it is. It's absolutely terrifying. Get ready to see a bunch of dead bodies. People die in the most tragic possible ways. There's a ghost with a knife. That's a thing. I remember when I played the first Silent Hill game, there were kids with knives. I remember showing everyone that sequence. Well, apparently, that's cool enough to garner a TV-14 rating now. It's pretty brutal. TV-14.
DIRECTOR: Remi Weekes
I think I get one horror movie a year with my wife now. That's okay. I get it. Horror movies aren't for everybody. Heck, horror movies should be for nobody. I don't know what it is about wanting to be scared by horrible things, but I totally appreciate it. It's interesting to me. Part of me really was going to make my wife watch The Brood, because I haven't seen it before. But I also knew that if I threw a David Cronenberg at my wife for the one horror movie a year, I might lose that one horror movie a year. Instead, the trailer for His House caught my eye. I do appreciate the Netflix Top 10 now. That's not a litmus for quality, but I do know that it might be a talking point at work.
I kinda / sorta believe that the New Golden Age of Television is over. Sorry. We have a lot of quality shows, but nothing is really water cooler discussion worthy. But I do think that we are in an era of horror that can't be ignored. Horror, for a long time, was considered cheap entertainment. It ticked boxes and adhered for formula. Given the right level of marketing, it would make a buck. If it didn't, it was forgotten. It felt like low-risk cinema. I think we have to give a lot of points to Jordan Peele's Get Out and to A24 for realizing that the rules of cinema should apply outside of genre. Making movies should be about art, message, and cinematography. We should care about what we're watching, not just the jump that we get from fear. I mean, I'm really fighting the high art versus low art thing right now, which is as pretentious as it gets. But movies like Get Out and His House seem to transcend genre. It's not to say that these movies aren't scary. If anything, these movies are scarier because they take the subject matter seriously. Investing in the film and investing in the characters make the moments more important. We care about these characters and we care about the plot.
Maybe message films get me. I think they do. I had a professor in college, while I was just a lowly theatre major, that stressed the importance of art having a message. The message is pretty overt. The way we treat refugees is similar to locking people in a haunted house. I can't help but make the comparison to zombie films, only with a loftier cause. Zombies tend to serve as setting. It's an explanation for why characters should be acting differently than they would in a traditional setting. Bol and Rial are trapped in a house with a witch and they can't leave because the horrors of Sudan are worse than living with a witch that is trying to kill them. That's powerful. It is heart wrenching thinking about the trials of the refugee. I've written about refugees before with the documentaries that I've watched about Syria. But that has always been a criticism of "there." It is terrible "there", it is fine "here". Admittedly, this is London. But I can't help but lump this into a criticism of the West. The fact that these people will jump through any hoops to prove that they are "one of the good ones" is terrifying.
For a long time in the movie, I was actually a little put off by the concept of the movie though. As much as I preach against formula, there is one trope that I kind of respect: the victims must do something wrong. From moment one, Bol and Rial are seen as "the good ones." Bol verbalizes the concept of goodness to the housing committee. There's this concept of gratitude and goodness that keeps pervading the story. So when they are tortured by this witch ghost (I can't quite express what kind of supernatural creature it is), it seems like it is unwarranted. But that's when the other shoe drops. The movie implying that Nyagak is their daughter makes it seem like Bol and Rial are the ultimate victims of a horror movie. They lose their daughter, are put into a haunted house, and are tortured by a witch ghost? The reveal that Nyagak is not their daughter and that she died in their care completely changes everything. It also gives context for why Bol and Rial view the witch ghost differently. Yeah, they're both being haunted, but it feels like Bol has gotten the brunt of the haunting. Rial somehow sees the ghost as just and appropriate for their condition. She also wants to make amends to the ghost while Bol is obsessed with assimilation.
Their attitude towards the witch ghost is telling of two very different philosophies. Bol sees the witch ghost as an obstacle from blending in. He goes clothes shopping and tries to mimic the clothing choices made by white families. He goes to bars and sings with the football hooligans. It seems like he wants desperately to please the housing committee, but he's really trying desperately to bury the Bol who got an innocent girl killed. He wants this to be a fresh start. Rial, however, acknowledges the sin and is slightly forgiven for her intentions. It wasn't her intention to take Nyagak. Because she stole her mother from Nyagak, Rial was going to be the best mother she could. But she faces this criminal failure, causing the death of this girl who was thrust into this situation. By acknowledging her sin, the torture becomes a kind of penance for her. But it also distances her from the philosophically different Bol, who can't understand why she isn't embracing this substandard lifestyle.
The kitchen table shot is something else, isn't it? Like, it's really effective. Most of the movie deals with hallucinations. There's a lot that is questionably real or imaginary. Most of this stuff really works. In fact, I love a lot of it. But I don't know if I love the zombie refugees. Besides not reading as effective as masked Nyagak, there's something almost cheap about it. Geez, I can't believe I'm writing this sentence down right now, but I think the corpses in themselves are haunting enough. I don't know if they really need to be up and walking around to earn a scare. The idea of dead refugees is actually more terrifying. Judging corpses might actually detract from something that is already haunting.
But the movie is scary. Like, this movie is really good and it's weird that it is only TV-14. It might be the most effective scary movie this year. While A24 keeps churning out impressive horror movies, I think stuff like His House might be both visually impressive and actually more scary than the most recent entries. I loved this one. It's pretty great.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.