News

His House Director Remi Weekes Wants to Make You Shake With Terror – And Open Your Mind

Netflix's critically acclaimed and deeply terrifying horror film about two asylum seekers trying to make a new life for themselves turns the haunted house genre on its head. Writer-director Remi Weekes reveals how.

by | October 28, 2020 | Comments

His House

(Photo by Aidan Monaghan/NETFLIX © 2020)

British director Remi Weekes’ 2016 short film Tickle Monster was the perfect calling card for an up-and-coming genre filmmaker: the story of an aspiring grime artist haunted by the titular handsy entity, it was a terrifying four-minutes of expertly crafted suspense and jump scares that somehow also managed to say something meaningful in its minuscule running time. Publications began spotlighting Weekes as a “star of tomorrow,” the short got a premiere slot at South By Southwest, and eventually he was tapped to write and direct his first feature, His House, a novel twist on the haunted house genre centered on two new-to-the-U.K. asylum seekers.

In His House, which arrives on Netflix this week, South Sudanese refugees Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) and Bol (Sope Dirisu) are released from a government facility and assigned a rundown house in a rundown estate in greater London where they must serve a kind of probation period: they can’t work, can’t move, and can’t rock the boat. Slowly, the couple realizes all is not as it appears in their new home, but with the state’s eye fixed firmly on them, and the pressure to be “good immigrants” pressing down, they can’t simply flee the terror – and so they must face it.

With His House, Weekes shows his successful short was no fluke: Critics at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where the movie premiered and Netflix scooped it up, heralded the arrival of a new horror force in the young writer-director, one who could blend scares that out-Conjuring-ed anything that universe was serving with trenchant and fresh-feeling social commentary. Ahead of the movie’s streaming release, we spoke with Weekes about crafting some of the year’s best scares and telling ghost stories focused on people and spirits we rarely see walking the corridors of haunted movie homes.

Remi Weekes

(Photo by © Netflix)

Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: One of the really compelling things about this movie is that, unlike a lot of haunted house movies, the characters can’t really leave their situation – there are so many different non-supernatural forces keeping them stuck. Why did you decide to focus on this aspect of the immigrant experience?

Remi Weekes: During the development of the story, we did a lot of research and I was reading about the asylum-seeking process in this country, and not just that, but also the experiences of asylum seekers. One thing that I really latched onto was this thing we have in the U.K., where we give an asylum seeker a house, but then we also try and enforce these very draconian rules that they have to abide by. They can’t just leave the house, and then they can’t get a job, and they get a very small allowance. But mostly they have to stay put. When you hear asylum seekers’ experiences of this, it can be quite a re-traumatizing moment for them. They are in a new and confusing world and they’re almost forced to park any kind of sense of progress or moving on; I guess they are unable to take the next step forwards in their new life. They’re forced to park everything and be re-traumatized all over again. It seemed, as a storyteller, a really perfect way to tell the story was around that.

The house itself is also interesting, because it’s not the kind of house we’re used to seeing in a traditional haunted home movie – there’s no gothic staircase or anything like that. You really emphasize how rundown and shabby this house is. It’s scarier, in a sense, but I’m wondering why you decided to go for that look and for this particular house?

Weekes: This is definitely a fictional story, but we tried to base everything within the film on some kind of truth and some kind of real experience. So the house in the film is based on the kinds of suburban places that asylum seekers would be taken to. We filmed in Tilbury, which is in Essex. It’s by the coast, and so it’s one of the places that many immigrants go through, so it had a particular resonance to the story. And so that’s why [we shot there].

Another reason why we picked that house was that, I guess, historically England or the U.K. has used its soft power to export a certain image of itself to the rest of the world, and it’s usually a very boastful image. I guess it’s part of the reason many people migrate here – this image that we project out to the world. So for a lot of people who come here, especially asylum seekers, it can be such a disorientating experience: everything they see and where they end up is not at all the image that they thought they were going to get. A lot of people, when they are given accommodation, they’re not really told where they’re going and where they’re being placed, and so it can really feel incredibly isolating and confusing. That was another reason why we picked that location, because it doesn’t scream “British” in all the classical ways you expect “British” to be.

His House

(Photo by Aidan Monaghan/NETFLIX © 2020)

Right. You seem to use that idea to explore different reactions asylum seekers have to confronting that reality. Bol, the husband, is determined to dig his heels in and stay and integrate – go to the pub, and follow football, and all this kind of stuff. Rial sees the house and you can kind of see the reaction instantly: She wants out. You’re giving us two distinct perspectives there and characterizations, and often times, migrants in films, particularly those told by Westerners, are kind of flattened and perceived as a monolith. Was that something you were really wanting to do in this film – show the richness and diversity of opinion and thoughts about those who come to the country?

Weekes: Yeah, totally. I think another thing that was incredibly important to me when I pitched the story was that I really wanted it to be about these two people and for them to be the story, and no one else, and it be told be through their eyes and their perspective. Mostly because this whole conversation about immigration usually takes place between politicians and activists and whatnot, and it’s rarely from the perspectives of the asylum seekers themselves. I really wanted to make sure to keep the focus on them and only them. With that, hopefully we create really distinct and really complicated characters who won’t behave in a cartoony way, as often they can be portrayed.

The movie is taking on a lot of issues, but it’s also just a very terrifying film. It’s really scary. You’ve said that you wanted to sort of “remix” some of the traditional horror fare that you’d grown up with. What was the horror you grew up loving, and what classics did you bring to bear on this particular film?

Weekes: I guess the biggest influences on this film were definitely the ghost stories – haunted house stories. The Innocents, for example, and The OthersThe Shining was a big influence. There’s a Thai filmmaker called Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and he does ghost stories as well, in a way, but set in Thailand. What I love about his stuff is that it’s all very banal and set in very normal spaces, but then ghosts come and stuff. I really liked that juxtaposition, and so I felt it influenced me a lot. 

His House

(Photo by Aidan Monaghan/NETFLIX © 2020)

There are a lot of in-camera practical effects sequences that are very effective and chilling, and also beautiful at times. What was the most challenging of those sequences to shoot for this film?

Weekes: I think all the kind of spooky sequences were challenging in a way. I came up as a director doing quite visual pieces. So what’s important to me about filmmaking is the craft of it and the building of it. It was really important to me that the sequences were scary and interesting, but – and this was really the difficult thing – not only do they have to work as scare sequences, but they all had to be in service of the character, and conceptually they all have to fit in with the story and what I was trying to say and what the character learns in that moment.

It was really challenging to me as a filmmaker, because on one level your job is to scare an audience, and when you’re using your imagination, you can think of all sorts of fun and crazy ways you can scare someone. But then you always have to think, “Well, am I just scaring them? Am I really serving the character? Am I moving the story forward? What am I saying? Is this enlightening of the character in any way?” Putting those two things together, that was challenging. I mean, sometimes it just was like, “Can we just have a ghost? Or a spider – could they get a spider?” You have to have the why, what does that mean? It was hard.

This is a bit of a broad question. We were interviewing Rapman, who made Blue Story, earlier this year, and discussing the need for new voices and different kinds of stories to get funding in the U.K. There seems to be some positive change with his film, yours, and others. Are you sensing that as well? Is there any shift in who is getting to tell stories in the U.K. or does more work need to be done?

Weekes: For me personally, it’s too early to say. I think I would be cautious of optimism, because culturally there’s always been peaks and troughs. There’s always been moments where there seems to be real energy in terms of changing of the guard, but there’s also been times where it’s fizzled out. I think the history of cinema has proven that there’s moments when Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society or Do the Right Thing become huge films and people think, “Oh, is this new wave sustainable?” and then you wait another 10 or 15 years before something else comes. Idealistically, I’d hope that the film industry puts in the time and effort to make a real diverse film culture. However, I would wait to see the data to see if there’s any real evidence of this.

His House

(Photo by Aidan Monaghan/NETFLIX © 2020)

What do you want people to take away from seeing His House this weekend?

Weekes: I guess empathy. I hope that our job as filmmakers and storytellers is to help audiences empathize with people that they might not normally empathize with. And so I hope that this brings some more empathy into the world.

And terror.

Weekes: And terror. That too. Empathy and terror – that’s me.


His House is available on Netflix from Friday, October 30, 2020. 


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Universal monster movies 24 frames Pop ABC Signature Britbox Martial Arts 2018 hist halloween saw GoT Hear Us Out comic universal monsters spanish Apple TV+ Lionsgate reboot Set visit japanese what to watch Acorn TV aliens BAFTA free movies Pride Month Emmy Nominations Watching Series science fiction travel docuseries CBS All Access spanish language CNN Polls and Games Reality fresh Nickelodeon American Society of Cinematographers RT21 high school BBC Amazon Studios The Purge Syfy VOD Nat Geo Disney Country movies 2016 Pirates Fall TV Extras international best ITV criterion stoner 007 social media WGN DC streaming service docudrama Reality Competition LGBT golden globe awards PlayStation technology cinemax 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards spider-man Trivia adventure Drama First Look 99% ESPN quibi FXX space godzilla VH1 telelvision rt archives Teen Baby Yoda sequels binge Hallmark Toys game show sports independent Trailer zero dark thirty die hard Infographic Lucasfilm Action lord of the rings talk show vampires boxoffice Turner FOX olympics Columbia Pictures Paramount 45 deadpool tv talk Winners Interview cars OneApp Marvel Studios french slashers Rock BET fast and furious historical drama jurassic park Cartoon Network Summer rom-coms CMT Television Academy Disney streaming service Marvel Television Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Freeform emmy awards chucky Holidays book TCA Awards reviews TV movies Logo name the review Brie Larson films HBO Go HBO romantic comedy popular police drama kong richard e. Grant Crackle biography nfl USA Network dragons TNT Elton John kids james bond Year in Review singing competition Rocky APB TV One news dceu NYCC NBC television Valentine's Day Bravo Starz Turner Classic Movies superman suspense DGA ID CBS ratings 90s sitcom The CW discovery crossover disaster Thanksgiving Wes Anderson toronto Warner Bros. period drama unscripted superhero Opinion See It Skip It true crime jamie lee curtis south america basketball 1990s rotten Arrowverse Oscars adenture classics Classic Film miniseries comic books Food Network serial killer Awards Tour transformers festival harry potter Walt Disney Pictures directors blaxploitation Alien IFC Films Stephen King strong female leads YouTube Red teaser live action Tokyo Olympics TCA Winter 2020 The Academy versus batman laika japan marvel cinematic universe book adaptation Fox News cancelled TV series cancelled heist movie 2019 IFC Premiere Dates scorecard Podcast National Geographic TCA 2017 king kong Mary Tyler Moore joker Animation Quiz revenge Mindy Kaling 4/20 Western video on demand wonder woman Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Spike 2015 mission: impossible Image Comics comiccon Pet Sematary justice league Film Festival 2021 Netflix documentaries The Witch children's TV dark BBC One Comic Book Winter TV Trophy Talk Kids & Family anime Family trailers Calendar Showtime AMC streaming Lifetime Christmas movies ABC Family Pacific Islander Rocketman facebook anthology Epix Amazon Prime TV canceled politics ABC Black Mirror Paramount Plus satire dc SundanceTV San Diego Comic-Con cults diversity Pop TV TV renewals ghosts Sci-Fi finale Video Games screen actors guild streaming movies Netflix Christmas movies Hulu Discovery Channel Disney+ Disney Plus Marvel MTV Cosplay A24 2020 Sundance Binge Guide TLC Chernobyl video new zealand DC Comics comics Super Bowl El Rey award winner Apple TV Plus golden globes Ovation USA Music Pixar psycho documentary Star Trek NBA Horror critics Certified Fresh all-time based on movie Lifetime X-Men LGBTQ game of thrones Box Office GIFs Marathons TBS SDCC blockbusters Tomatazos sag awards comedies women MCU robots Emmys E3 nbcuniversal Mary poppins aapi twilight psychological thriller Mystery RT History Anna Paquin 71st Emmy Awards movie nature political drama Star Wars concert YouTube TruTV WarnerMedia TCM italian parents Travel Channel canceled TV shows 20th Century Fox zombies crime thriller Exclusive Video supernatural Song of Ice and Fire Creative Arts Emmys TIFF History black cancelled TV shows casting Red Carpet Peacock New York Comic Con adaptation pirates of the caribbean SXSW prank Sneak Peek mutant YouTube Premium Tubi GLAAD The Walt Disney Company TV Land Countdown Comics on TV Rom-Com zombie scene in color Avengers dogs Spectrum Originals football President Awards renewed TV shows Disney Channel razzies medical drama archives Mudbound Masterpiece Black History Month cats 21st Century Fox breaking bad HBO Max scary movies dramedy Superheroe legend spy thriller child's play blockbuster FX on Hulu thriller Grammys Dark Horse Comics romance animated DC Universe Fox Searchlight festivals Shudder foreign Comedy Central Funimation Vudu sequel Schedule 93rd Oscars Shondaland king arthur latino rotten movies we love Amazon Captain marvel composers MSNBC First Reviews Nominations australia PBS Superheroes franchise 72 Emmy Awards Mary Poppins Returns Biopics know your critic Spring TV Writers Guild of America BET Awards Cannes Best and Worst Tumblr Sony Pictures Comedy ViacomCBS witnail Sundance Now Broadway crime Ellie Kemper doctor who indiana jones remakes series hispanic venice TCA elevated horror Film new star wars movies Holiday 2017 Christmas CW Seed Character Guide asian-american crime drama VICE YA Academy Awards theme song Fantasy christmas movies FX worst spinoff hollywood werewolf PaleyFest Crunchyroll toy story target Tarantino spain E! OWN Photos indie stop motion hidden camera The Walking Dead halloween tv Hallmark Christmas movies stand-up comedy green book Ghostbusters cops mockumentary Amazon Prime Video worst movies Television Critics Association Election Apple Esquire boxing natural history cooking obituary Comic-Con@Home 2021 Musical DirecTV Endgame Adult Swim BBC America Paramount Network Heroines cartoon new york cancelled television kaiju Women's History Month screenings Musicals Legendary Disney Plus The Arrangement Sundance TV a nightmare on elm street A&E war