Living with Ghosts
His House writer-director Remi Weekes discusses the making of a haunted-house movie that’s more than it seems with Black List founder Franklin Leonard.
It’s impossible to make a haunted-house movie about Black people.We’ve been through enough on this side of the spectral plane — or so the logic and joke go — that any indication of a mortal threat from the other side is more than enough reason for us to keep it moving. It doesn’t matter how great our new house might be or what we might have gone through to settle into it.In that sense, it’s obvious from the opening minutes of Remi Weekes’s debut feature, His House, that the 33-year-old filmmaker has actually done the impossible. The British writer-director has crafted a Black haunted-house movie that never makes the audience question its inhabitants’ Blackness — despite their sticking around in the face of very real danger. Very simply, the consequences of leaving are worse.Husband and wife Bol and Rial — played by Sope Dirisu (the Nigerian British actor whose credits include Gangs of London) and Nigerian-born Wunmi Mosaku (Lovecraft Country), delivering star turns that are both naturalistic and highly technical — are refugees of South Sudan’s civil war. If they leave the resettlement quarters they’ve been gifted by Her Majesty’s Government, they’ll be swiftly returned to the violence they risked life and limb to escape. Yet, as they soon discover, that might be preferable to sticking around with whatever has joined them in their new home. Such is life for a refugee in the 21st century.It’s a bold debut from Weekes, who previously wrote and directed the short film Tickle Monster, which made its U.S. premiere at South by Southwest in 2017. His House is a horror film about survivor’s guilt, about home and its myriad definitions, that is both impossible and impossibly vital as the worldwide refugee crisis escalates with no end in sight.
I spoke with Weekes about why and how he made His House.Franklin Leonard: There is a classic 1982 bit by Eddie Murphy about how you can’t have horror movies with Black people, about how that movie would just be like, “Wow, baby, this house is beautiful. We got a chandelier hanging up here, kids outside playing. I love it.” Then there’s a demonic whisper: “Get out.” The response is: “Too bad we can’t stay!”
There are really exceptional performances from the stars, Sope and Wunmi. How did you find them? This is essentially a two-hander, and these are not easy roles.
RW: They are both amazing and beautiful actors and human beings. When you’re about to make your first film, there’s always the anxiety that you will be overwhelmed and you’ll be the amateur among professionals. It could all go wrong so quickly. I was so fortunate that I was able to work with both Sope and Wunmi. We were casting for a good while all over the world, and by some serendipity, they were both able to come around the same time and audition together. They also knew each other vaguely, so the chemistry was easy. It was clear in a moment that they would work out.
Both Bol and Rial say the same line in one form or another — this notion that they are “one of the good ones.” As a Black American, that struck at the core of my own experience.
RW: I’m sure it’s similar everywhere, that notion of the good immigrant and the need to be accepted into the culture, always being judged on a level much higher than anyone else is judged on.
There was another beat that I clocked immediately. Upon getting out of detention, upon getting their house, the first thing Bol does is get a haircut. It felt like such an explicitly Black moment. I think any Black person — even one like me who hasn’t had a haircut in over 20 years — would recognize it as such. Could you talk about the articulation of Blackness in the context of this movie? At one point, Rial is lost and she’s mocked by these Black teenagers.
RW: Whether it’s African or Caribbean or whatnot, it’s amazing how even amongst ourselves, the ideas that come from these Western and white notions of Blackness seep into our culture sometimes and create divisions. It can be sad.
Did you build the house on a soundstage? How did that come together from a craft perspective?
RW: We shot on location to begin with, in a neighborhood called Tilbury, in Essex. We found the house that we wanted to set the film in, and we shot a week there. Then we recreated the house on a soundstage in West London. It was really fun using the soundstage — with the moving walls, and the ability to put things behind the walls and mix things up a bit.
Watch His House
on Netflix now.