“I like cinema that cracks open your sense of the world”: Remi Weekes on His House

The director of the spooky-asylum horror His House talks about the craft of horror, cold welcomes and bendable reality.

21 October 2020

By Leila Latif

Sight and Sound

▶︎ His House is released in UK cinemas on 23 October and streams on Netflix from 30 October.

Remi Weekes’s debut feature His House premiered to critical acclaim at Sundance earlier this year before being snapped up by Netflix. It tells the story of a South Sudanese couple (played by Wunmi Mosaku and Sopé Dìrísù) seeking asylum in the UK who find themselves trapped in a council house with a supernatural presence.

Weekes’s previous work has included commercial campaigns involving innovative visual effects as part of the award-winning duo Tell No One and the horror short Tickle Monster for Channel 4 [▶︎].

How did you find the transition from the more abstract work you did with Tell No One, and your terrifying short Tickle Monster, to working with a longer narrative?

I’d always wanted to tell stories about characters, about people. There was never an obvious path into it; I didn’t feel like I was naturally good at it.

With Tell No One I learned what it meant to make a film. I applied that sense of learning to writing, to figuring out what it means to tell a story, create a narrative, and what makes good characters. When I was younger I assumed you either had it magically or you didn’t. It wasn’t until I started in filmmaking that I got that it was something you can learn and develop.

Wunmi Mosaku and Sopé Dìrísù in His House

His House’s release is tragically timely – the reality refugees face is playing out as a daily news story, but the media regularly dehumanises them. Was it your intention to try to humanise them?

To write about someone is to humanise them. The politics behind has to be secondary. I have to care about that the least when I’m creating a story.

For me, it was primarily about being in a culture that doesn’t show willingness to accept you. That’s a very human story and something that I am trying to understand – not just for myself, but for my friends, my family. Obviously, I’ve been paying attention to the politics, but at times it becomes so exhausting you need to take a step back and just look at the actual people involved.

Wunmi Mosaku and Sopé Dìrísú’s strained relationship is the core of His House. We have to invest in them but we never see their good times. How do you cast for something like that?

We were lucky that they were able to come in on the same day and test together. It was easy, as they were just so good together. Wunmi and Sope are so different from one another and not like their characters at all, but they could slip into this dynamic. The best part of making the film was hanging out with them, the relationships that were formed making it. We all really like each other and you can see that on screen.

Wenmi Mosaku, Sopé Dìrísù and Remi Weekes after the Sundance premiere of His House

In His House they face some subtle resentment and micro-aggressions. As a black person they were very obvious to me, but do you worry that a white audience might not understand what they are seeing?

The stuff I wrote was very obvious to me. Any audience will see your film differently, which you can’t control – once it’s out there you just have to let it go. I hope people see the micro-aggressions; the intention is there and I think they’ll pick up on them. But I can see that it could go over your head if you haven’t experienced racism.

The film has a lot of very visceral horror in it. Was that all digital effects?

This is very similar to what I did with Tell No One, where you shoot things for real but then augment them digitally to take it to a different place. I love doing that: it’s using computers in a way that affects reality rather than just generating something from nothing. That really helps to connect every element together.

Who are your horror influences?

I like arthouse and I love Kubrick, in particular The Shining [1980]. Growing up, it was Wes Craven’s Scream [1996], The Ring and [Kim Jee-woon’s 2003] A Tale of Two Sisters.

I like horror that bends reality rather than the very violent kind. I like cinema that cracks open your sense of the world and shows you something else. I don’t think we know much about reality, which is in itself fascinating, beautiful and scary.

Further reading

His House gives a displaced couple no happy home

Remi Weekes’s canny first feature finds fresh terrors for two South Sudanese refugees in the back rooms beyond British social realism.

By Kim Newman

His House gives a displaced couple no happy home