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Sundance: 'His House' merges refugee trauma with supernatural horrors
It's hard enough for refugees fleeing certain death, making their way to safety, and trying to start a new life in a strange new place, but in writer/director Remi Weekes' feature film debut, His House, they will also have to deal with the vengeful spirits that have followed them on the traumatic journey, and now angrily haunt their new home.
His House, which is currently screening at the Sundance Film Festival, stars Wunmi Mosaku (Luther, Lovecraft Country) and Sope Dirisu (Humans, The Huntsman: Winter's War) as a Sudanese couple fleeing the war, and trying to resettle in the London area with the help of their case worker (Matt Smith). But their relative security comes at a terrible price, as their dilapidated government-provided housing isn't safe from supernatural horror.
"I come from a very ethnically-diverse part of London," Weekes told the crowd at the screening, which included SYFY WIRE, while explaining the genesis of his concept. "For many of us who aren't white British growing up in England, we always find ourselves torn between wanting to assimilate to fit into the primary culture and then the other side that wants to rebel and pull away from it and discover what is our place and our home. I felt that was a good starting place for this kind of story. I love movies and I love storytelling and always felt that if I could infuse the ideas I had growing up with the kind of movies I like, that would be the kind of space I'd like to make films in."
What films does Weekes cite as inspirations? "Horror films, obviously," he said with a smile. "Nollywood, Africa Magic — if you haven't heard of it, it's African soap opera that also includes things like witches and spirits and spells and stuff. It's a very specific form of storytelling which I really enjoy, and that was a big inspriation. I'm quite lowbrow/highbrow. I like The Shining and there are some references in there, but I also like I Know What You Did Last Summer."
His House touches on themes of assimilation, survivor's guilt, personal shame, marriage difficulties, psychological trauma, and the general plight of migrants, but Weekes also took time to learn the specifics of regional superstitions in order to make the scares as authentic as the immigrant experience.
"The two characters are from South Sudan, the Dinka tribe, so we did a lot of research into them," Weekes said. "A lot of the ideas and myths within the film are based on the stories that are popular there. It was really fun to research. We went through the scripts again and again in terms of language and food and just little things that will butt against British things and Britishness. I think we've been very good in the West to sell a fantasy of what the West is and it's really convincing. For many people who come to England, they feel like, 'Oh, this is it!' And that's always very fascinating."
In the end, the title of His House conveys the central theme. "I think what people call home, their need to create a home, and whose home belongs to whom and how it came to them is very important, especially now."
His House is currently screening at the Sundance Film Festival, and will eventually be available on Netflix.