(director/writer: Remi Weekes; screenwriter: story by Felicity Evans & Tony Venables; cinematographer: Jo Willems; editor: Julia Bloch; music: Roque Baños; cast: Sope Dirisu (Bol Majur), Wunmi Mosaku (Rial Majur), Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba (Nyagak), Emily Taafe (Dr. Hayes), Matt Smith (Mark Esworth), Javier Botet (The Witch), Vivienne Soan (Neighbor); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ed King, Roy Lee, Aidan Elliott, Arnon Michon; Netflix; 2020-UK-in Dinka & English, with English subtitles when necessary)
“This superb haunted house drama of refugees from Sudan in England trying to assimilate.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The feature film directing debut of the British writer-director Remi Weekes is this superb haunted house drama of refugees from Sudan in England trying to assimilate. It blends together both a familiar haunted house Jump scares story with a fresh political story on real life issues over racism, isolation and of immigrants being culturally displaced. Weekes smartly scripts it from an imaginative story by Felicity Evans & Tony Venables. The film was acquired by Netflix upon its Sundance debut.
A young couple from Sudan, the bank worker Bol (Sope Dirisu) and his observant wife Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), escaping a war zone at home, have become refugees in Britain after trying to escape at night on a boat that capsized, killing many people including their young daughter. Arriving in London and going to a grimy detention center, they’re given temporary political asylum and public housing because their bored white case worker considers them “one of the good ones.” They’re placed into a filthy apartment with holes in the walls, roaches, and the lights don’t turn on.
In the unnamed impoverished London neighborhood, their white neighbors coldly stare at them with looks of racial hatred and the young black residents laugh at their accents. Though still grieving their daughter’s death, the couple optimistically hope to begin a new life here and pledge themselves to following the rules so as to not endanger their chances to become citizens.
Soon they’re experiencing mysterious horrors in the house, in the form of a vengeful apparition coming out of the rotting walls and taking on a twisted version of their deceased little girl. There are other terrifying images by the restless spirits, just as scary.
They are forced by the law not to seek work but exist on meager government handouts. Also disheartening is when Bol is turned down by his callous housing officer (Matt Smith) when requesting another residence.
Life in the outside real world turns out to be more horrible than the supernatural scares in the house, ones that bring back scares from their old country and make the suffering couple relive the massacre they lived through.
The hardships of a modern-day immigrant’s life in the west is more affecting than the familiar haunted house story. The blend of the two stories helps us see better what the immigrant is going through in a divisive England that voted for Brexit.
The ending of this promising director’s indie horror pic recalls the conclusion of The Babadook.
The conflicted couple, Dìrísù and Mosaku, are appealing and sympathetic characters, who are not saints but ordinary folks resigned to their cruel fate. They live quietly as fearful grief-stricken refugees trying to get their lives together in a hostile political environment. The high-concept fantasy story complements the story of living through the divisive times contemporary England is going through.
REVIEWED ON 11/6/2020 GRADE: B +