This story contains spoilers for His House, available to stream on Netflix October 30.
At first glance, Netflix’s His House appears to be your typical haunted house movie. Bol (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), married refugees from South Sudan, move into dilapidated government-issued housing as they await confirmation of British citizenship. Though they’re excited to start a new life, both are plagued with nightmares about the child they lost at sea while crossing into Europe. Soon enough however, they realize that they’re not alone: there’s something evil living in the walls of the house, and if they are to truly retain ownership of their property and their souls, they’ll have to face it.
But like so many good entries into the genre, Remi Weekes’s feature debut uses the supernatural as a gateway to a very real truth. The ghost isn’t the only thing haunting Bol and Rial. They’re already living with the spectre of their past, the unspeakable horrors they’ve witnessed, experienced, and even perpetrated in order to survive.
“There's a world in which the beast doesn't exist and the film still completely reads exactly the same in a way,” Mosaku told Refinery29 ahead of the film’s October 30 release on Netflix.
It’s that acknowledgment of reality as horror that initially drew the Lovecraft Country star to the project. Like Misha Green’s HBO series, His House uses genre elements to illustrate and highlight its social commentary. In some ways, the monster is simply a manifestation of what Bol and Rial can’t yet admit to themselves.
“The scariest thing is the truth of the story, the truth of what people have been through, what people have had to face, what people have done, what has been done to people — that's more scary to me than a monster,” Mosaku said. “The gaping wounds that people have inflicted on others emotionally, physically, spiritually, the scars of colonialism, all of it.”
Bol and Rial deal with the ghost in different ways. The former struggles against its pull, fighting to forget and forge ahead. He watches soccer with a group of local men, and insists on speaking only English. Rial, on the other hand, succumbs, giving herself over to the forces that want to make her remember.
It’s through Rial’s trance-like memories that the movie’s endgame becomes clear. A teacher whose school was overrun by a warring faction, slaughtering everyone in sight, Rial survived by hiding in a cabinet. When she finally emerges to the bodies of her friends piled up on the floor, Bol is there, and guides her out of the building and towards a rooftop where they spend the night, while violence continues to erupt below. That alone would be enough to explain what keeps them up at night, but the worst is yet to come.
When the two finally find a bus that will launch them on a harrowing journey out of the country, they find there is no room. Terrified that this is his one chance to save himself and Rial, Bol picks up a child from the crowd and pulls what can only be described as a Billy Zane in Titanic: He claims the girl as his own child, and he and Rial are allowed to board. As the bus pulls away, the child’s real mother’s screams pierce the heavy silence as she frantically pursues the bus and her daughter, until she’s gunned down by the approaching militia.
All this time, we thought that Rial and Bol were mourning their daughter, who drowned during the sea crossing from Sudan to Europe. But now we know that their loss is compounded by the guilt they feel for failing to protect a child that they selfishly used as a way to get to safety in the first place. They’re not just fighting one ghost. They’re living with the memory of all those who were lost.
The ending of His House is one of “acceptance,” Mosaku says. And indeed, in those final moments, we see Bol finally accepting to meet the beasts’ demands. He cuts his own arm, offering a blood sacrifice so that he can trade his own life for the child he failed to save. “I should have tried harder,” he tells a distraught Rial. “I should have saved her.”
“I see her, all of them, from the boat, from home,” he continues. “And what does that make us?”
Bol urges Rial to leave the kitchen right as the floor opens up, revealing a truly very scary-looking monster. “You are mine,” the beast growls, digging his claws into the gash on Bol’s arm.
As the monster starts to consume Bol, Rial, standing in the other room, is visited by the ghost of the little girl she now thinks of as her own daughter, as well as the women with whom she shared a classroom back home. “I have to say goodbye now,” she tells her ghosts. “I’m going home.”
With that, she strides back into the kitchen, grabs a kitchen knife, and slits the monster’s throat. She’s made the choice to live in the present, to go forward into the future with her husband rather than dwelling in the darkness of the past.
Still, that doesn’t mean the past will ever really leave her. In the final scene, a government official played by Matt Smith comes to the house to investigate the claims Bol made earlier in the film, when he demanded Rial and he be moved to another location. By then, Bol and Rial have made peace with their ghosts and therefore the house. As they smile serenely, we see them surrounded by all those they have lost. As part of the select few to make it, Bol and Rial must bear witness for the rest.
“The ending for me was so moving,” Mosaku said. “They're living with them all their lives. I imagine like every step they take in or outside of that house, all of those experiences, those people, are with them. And I think it's kind of true of just life. I'm a product of everything and everyone that I’ve ever met and the experiences that I’ve had. Those people will never leave them. They will constantly be haunted by them, but it's an acceptance rather than a fight.”