Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Filmmaker Remi Weekes’ HIS HOUSE is a multi-layered horror film centering on two married refugees, Bol (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), who escaped war-torn Sudan, fleeing for the safety of England, only to be confronted by ghosts both new and old. It’s a riveting, gripping feature that speaks to the current plight those seeking asylum face, but also the trauma they had to endure seeking sanctuary.
During the film’s recent virtual roundtable, we spoke to the stars and filmmaker about how shooting in one main location added to the atmosphere of claustrophobia, how outside connections kept them sane and how their active roles in this fictional tale personally impacted their understanding of the world’s refugee crisis.
Was there a difference between filming a chamber piece – something that’s as insular and primarily set in one location like this – versus filming in multiple locations?
Wunmi Mosaku: “That four weeks in the studio felt like building a home and community with the cast and the crew. There was something really comforting knowing exactly where you’re walking into every day. A lot of the time, you see the set for the first time that one day. To know where you’re walking into, I felt like that was quite a luxury.”
Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù : “Conversely, I actually found that spending that much time in the same location did somewhat become claustrophobic. Not in a bad way where you didn’t like seeing the same faces. But the mentality of the same space, over and over again, for weeks on end: the house, the room and the soundstage. There was one point where Remi had the idea where Bol falls in the ocean and you’d see fish swim past him. So we had a tank with what would’ve been a hundred fish that were never used, or seen, in the film, that completely stunk out the whole soundstage for like two weeks.
When you see the film, the house is a character in itself and that’s a testament to locations, to the art department who created this grotesque environment. It felt like we were being subjected to it, over and over and over again. It really fed into that feeling that these characters can’t leave. This is a haunted house film where you can’t tell the characters, ‘Just leave.’ They can’t just leave. I felt that when we’d return to West London Studios day after day.”
Remi Weekes: “I got really comfortable on the set. I remember the first AD couldn’t find me and then he found me just like lying in the corner of the bedroom.”
The movie is intense and it’s unrelenting tension you had to channel as actors. What did you do for self-care during the filming so that your body, your tool, could stay sharp?
Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù: “I took up running. I’m not a runner and really don’t like running as a form of exercise because it’s painful for me. But I found it entirely therapeutic on this job. It really gave me about half-an-hour, or 45 minutes, to myself to de-stress and decompress and leave in the studio the themes and what we’re tackling, so that I could have a lovely evening with my friends or family outside of the shoot. I’m really grateful to those people as well, because they really kept lifting my spirits and my head up whilst we were dealing with a very heavy subject matter.
What did you learn about yourself making this movie?
Remi Weekes: “I really find that the research behind it is always such a gift. I read so much about migration and the asylum seeking process in this country. Not only that, but something I love to read about it African history and African folktales and stories of witches and stuff. All of that is such a joy as a storyteller to be able to read about.”
Wunmi Mosaku: “As someone who would say they were liberal and that no person is illegal, I was still thinking about numbers – a broad umbrella – when thinking about the refugee crisis in the U.K. and asylum seekers. As much as I thought I had empathy, I felt like I was opened up to caring more because there was now a story, a person, a trauma I could really see and hone in on. The beauty of the script made me remember that people are living with their traumas – they are haunted by everything they’ve been through. As much as I knew it in one respect, in my head, I didn’t feel it until I read the script and was hit by that.
I think it’s important to remember that in 2019, there were 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world. That’s a huge number that’s impossible to get your head around how many people are living with that trauma. But to hone in on one story to kind of remember that 79.5 million people walking, haunted, in a new country.”
Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù: “I thought I knew what this was. I thought I understood that life is hard in places and people make decisions. But I tell you what. We were in Pinewood Studios in the water tank stage, shooting Bol, Rial and Nyagak in the boat with other refugees. I remember being sat there, we’re ready to shoot, I’m quite comfortable. And then I saw them load the supporting artists on who were children into the boat. Watching that happen, feeling how unsafe that boat was in this controlled environment, was really affecting actually. Thinking about that now makes me sad.
People wouldn’t do this if they had any other choice. I thought I knew what that meant, but I didn’t really know what that meant until I saw it happening. And this is all make-believe! We have the comfort of talking about this as an anecdote for the film we made. But there’s hundreds of people who did make it that are talking about it as a real lived experience. There are even more people who didn’t make it that will never get to speak about their experience. Making this film reminded me of how lucky I am to have been born to the parents I had, growing up in England, and to have the privilege of doing a job I love doing.”
HIS HOUSE begins streaming on October 30.