His House is a supernatural horror film with social commentary, where the supernatural elements and the realistic horrors are both intertwined into a horrifying tale of trauma and survivor’s guilt. Let’s discuss what His House means and tells us.
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Bol and Rial Majur have fled South Sudan to escape the horrific war. They ended up in England where they wait in a refugee center, while they also mourn the loss of their daughter Nyagak who drowned at sea. When they get appointed a house, they soon are confronted by their traumas from war and their survivor’s guilt in an all too real way by being haunted by an Apeth.
Bol and Rial
When they move into their new home, a house that is in bad repair in a deprived neighborhood, they are not welcomed. Not by their neighbors who act very hostile, but also the house turns against them. Bol suffers the most from these hauntings in the house and he even tries to bring down the walls to unveil who or what is living inside the walls. He sees the ghost of Nyagak and of the other refugees who drowned at sea, who now are trying to kill him.
While Rial suffers the most in the real world. She struggles with the loss of Nyagak, holding her doll close and wearing her neckless. In the hospital she talks briefly about her and about the two tribes, of which she both wears the marks on her skin to belong nowhere and surviving that way. But now in a new country she doesn’t belong anywhere anymore. Three English black boys tell her to go back to Africa, and eventually she does want to go back.
In contrast to Bol. Now the house is turning against him, he’s ever more determined to stay. He wants to adjust and buys himself and Rial Western clothes, while being watched with a suspicious eye by the security guy in the store. Rial wears her new clothes but reluctantly. While Bol is trying to fight the ghosts in the house, Rial has accepted them. She has seen worse back home, and ghosts can’t touch her.
When Bol finally confesses to Rial that he sees ghosts, she tells him a story her mother used to tell her. A man stole from everybody, but when he stole from an Apeth, a Night Witch, the Apeth followed him home and took over his house and haunted and tormented him. Now Bol and Rial have brought back from the sea their own Apeth. And he wants back what Bol has stolen from him. But it isn’t clear yet what it is he has stolen. At first you might think of the house itself, them being refugees that don’t belong, but there’s a dark secret hiding in the house.
When finally it comes to a collision between Bol and Rial, when he wants to lock them inside the house to claim it, Rial flees the house only to succumb outside and suffers from hallucinations. In that flashback we see her back in South Sudan where she hid in a cupboard from being shot, while all of her friends were shot to death, lying in a pile in the corner. Bol is looking for her and together they try to make it to the coast.
When they arrive in a town a small bus is about to leave. It’s packed full and doesn’t want to take anybody else. Bol and Rial are shut out but in total desperation Bol grabs a random girl, Nyagak, because they only take children. So Rial and Bol are allowed to get on the bus. Just in time before the town gets attacked. They drive away while Nyagak’s real mother is desperately seeking for her and sees her in the bus. That act of desperation to save their own lives, has cost the life of Nyagak’s real mother and their separation. At sea the boat capsizes and Bol saves Rial, while Nyagak drowns.
Survivor’s guilt and trauma
Nyagak wasn’t their real daughter, but suffering heavily from war trauma and survivor’s guilt Rial is coming to believe that she actually was and she is grieving the loss of a real daughter. The fact that Bol stole a girl from her mother to survive himself haunts him. It takes form of an Apeth and is also shown by his visions at sea where he is attacked by the others who did drown. His guilt takes form in a real and in a surreal way.
Both Bol and Rial are safe and are able to built a new life for themselves, but they have to reckon with their traumas, or at least admitting they are there and accepting what they have done. They are not bad people, just people who wanted to survive and did anything they could. But Bol is drowning himself in his guilt and when the Apeth says that he has to kill himself to bring back Nyagak, a life for a life, he finally is willing to do so. And Rial wants Nyagak back. But while his guilt is too big to bear, Rial is on a path to make amends with what happened. It was a bad decision, but she also understands that Bol doesn’t deserve to die for it now. And that the dead stay dead. While the Apeth wants to crawl literally under Bol’s skin, where the guilt and trauma reside, Rial kills the Apeth by slashing his throat.
They both have to reckon with the past. The house isn’t His, the Apeth’s house anymore but it is theirs, Bol’s and Rial’s now. His house is also referenced many times by the civil servants who remark many times that Bol’s house is bigger than theirs. When Bol wants another house, and can’t fully explainwhy, he gets those comments. ‘His House is bigger than mine.’ Commenting on the place and space figuratively and literally refugees are taking from them, without having to do anything for it.
His House can be seen as the house of the Apeth or the house of Bol. The title refers both to the Apeth who’s a symbol of survivor’s guilt and trauma and Bol who can’t deal with it alone but tries to deal with it himself without involving Rial or asking her for help. Trauma isn’t something that can be fought by a hammer or pulling off the wallpaper to uncover what lies behind it. It’s far more complex and Bol and Rial have to find a way, just like they have to find a new way of life in England.