‘Your ghosts follow you’

Chrissie Fitch reviews psychological thriller, His House, and drama series Stateless, both on Netflix.

What problems do refugees encounter when settling into a new culture? On the surface, the film, His House follows Sudanese couple, Rial and Bol, placed in a seemingly haunted house in – we presume – London, by their caseworker (Matt Smith, Womb). Going deeper, seeing the torture and struggles they faced first-hand made me sympathise with their situation despite their lies. Flashbacks revealed their dangerous, desperate escape from war-torn, poverty-stricken South Sudan, with graphic scenes of others drowning en-route.

Raised in a culture steeped in witchcraft, Rial believes they have been cursed by an apeth (night witch) from Dinka folklore for ‘stealing’ the lives of those unable to leave South Sudan or make it to England alive. Although at times I watched through my fingers, these scenes seem pivotal to enforce the mental suffering Rial and Bol endured, and made the twists, revelations, and finale, all the more fulfilling. Not a fan of horror films, I was pleased that His House takes the tired formula of this genre to the next level.  

Stateless focuses on five individuals from varying backgrounds and is set at an immigration detention centre, Barton, in the Australian outback. The title ‘Stateless’ is not a political diatribe; it addresses the loss of personal identity that migrants face, devoid of a common humanity we naturally crave. According to actress and producer, Cate Blanchett, ‘people are citizens of somewhere. We have birth certificates, passports, identification cards. On paper, stateless people don’t exist; statelessness exists everywhere’. Stateless, therefore, considers the mistreatment and trauma of asylum seekers, particularly those fleeing war and persecution in their home countries and seeking financial gain. The heartbreaking storyline of Ameer, for example, highlights the horrific human cost Afghans continue to incur in a bid to find solace in the West.

The storyline of the fifth main character of Stateless is the most harrowing as it mirrors the real-life experiences of Germany-born Australian citizen, Cornelia Rau, a flight attendant on the run from an abusive cult group who is eventually caught by Australian police. In disguise, Sofie (Yvonna Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale) poses as a German named Eve. Unable to establish who she is, coupled with her developing mental illness, authorities deem her an unlawful non-citizen and detain her. This central story reveals the flaws in the Australian immigration system and the effects of misdiagnosis.

His House also highlights the loopholes in our own immigration system, as Rial and Bol cannot work, only receiving a small weekly stipend from the government to live on. In a similar vein to Stateless, His House emphasises the need to fit in. We see Bol buy the same clothes from an advert and wanting to eat dinner at a table with cutlery to coincide with Western norms; a lost Rial is relieved to find a group of black boys and asks them for directions. However, despite sharing her skin colour, they mock her lack of English accent and nastily tell her to return to where she came from. When a doctor compliments her tattoos, Rial explains their significance, symbols of the two warring tribes of her home country; ‘I survived by belonging nowhere’.

Bol concludes, ‘your ghosts follow you. When I let them in, I could start to face myself.’ The genres and characters of Stateless and His House differ but they share one core principle: the ghosts of trauma will always occupy a room in the houses of our mind. 

Reviewed by Chrissie Fitch MSc, Distance Learning Assessor in Child and Educational Psychology at Oxbridge Home Learning Ltd; and Associate Editor for Culture.

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