Studio: Gravita Ventures
Director: Dominic Bridges
Writer: Rae Bunton
Producer: Simon Mallinson, Matt Hichens
Stars: Javier Botet, Mim Shaikh, Mandeep Dhillon, Kola Bokinni
To get revenge on the realtor who ruined him, a man secretly lives inside the agent’s flat and gradually alters his life.
NOTE: "Freehold" was previously titled "Two Pigeons."
Orlan wants revenge against the conniving real estate agent who ruined his family by bilking Orlan out of a home. Orlan is going to get that revenge too, in a deviously unorthodox manner.
Outside of unscrupulous behavior when wheeling and dealing properties for the biggest paydays possible, Hussein is only a mild mannered lout. He plays video games, watches an occasional piece of porn, bickers with his girlfriend Mel, and generally goes about his daily routine as barely a blip on anyone’s radar except Orlan’s.
That routine is seriously undermined however, when Orlan secretly takes up residence within Hussein’s apartment walls and gradually disrupts as many minor and major details as he can. From unflushed toilets and toenails under pillowcases to altered alarm clocks and silverware soaked in toilet water, Orlan aims to make Hussein’s life a subtle Hell without him consciously realizing it.
Hussein does realize it though, leading to a conflict of pointed fingers between he and Mel over who is responsible for the oddities around the apartment. His relationship is reaching its breaking point, and so is his mind, as Hussein struggles to solve the mystery of his flat’s ongoing descent into disarray.
A confrontation with the uninvited houseguest has to be on the horizon at some point. But frustrations boiling on both sides might elevate that inevitability to life or death stakes.
Dominic Bridges’ “Freehold” is similar in concept to Adam Mason’s “Hangman” (review here). While the latter played the premise of a surreptitious stalker subverting a home as macabre “found footage” horror, “Freehold” instead plays it as a blackly comic parable with strokes of class system commentary.
Writer Rae Bunton appears to be exorcising demons with a relatable revenge fantasy where a downtrodden working man with nothing left to lose takes the huckster who brought him to the bottom right down there with him. It’s the kind of outrageous long con idea for screwing someone over we’ve all wished at least once for the patience to commit to ourselves. That’s exactly the well from where the movie draws sly snickers, as an audience identifies surrogates they’d like to see using a toothbrush laced with butt sweat and agrees, “he deserves it.”
“Freehold” simmers its ramp-up with a prolonged pace that is sleepy, though its low-humming humor grows more infectious in the meanwhile. Still, the movie’s issue is that its premise is so simple, 80 minutes is longer than needed for setup and subtext to root, bloom, and run their full courses. Yet the runtime continues rolling forward with more of the same, thinning the theme by overreaching to stretch the story.
Even when the plot pauses for Orlan to read a book, prep a meal, or otherwise illustrate banalities of his own itinerary, the movie moves on the personality of its cast. Noted creature performer Javier Botet (“The Conjuring 2,” “The Mummy,” “It,” and many more) sheds the makeup to expose his thin frame in a role terrifically tailored to his physicality. Mim Shaikh puts surprising charm into Hussein, almost to a point of dangerously teetering sympathies, painting the man as pitiable for being more obliviously average than outright despicable.
Mandeep Dhillion matches Shaikh well as his girlfriend Mel, making for a seesaw chemistry of affection and agitation that comes across in organic couples’ conversations reflective of real life. Kola Bokinni is the only other top-billed actor, though he is caught spinning wheels as a drug-dealing friend of Hussein’s who doesn’t do much for their dynamic.
“Freehold” isn’t exactly a straight thriller and even ‘comedy’ is mildly misleading. ‘Dread’ isn’t an optimal word either, although there is a monotone hum to the score when Orlan stalks about that hints at something sinister, and the film hits an unexpectedly sad note on its way to the resolution as well.
This eclectic mix of moods add up to a unique tone landing “2 Pigeons” in an indie aesthetic limbo that is part quirky, part experimental, and part oddly intoxicating. Director Dominic Bridges intentionally unsettles atmosphere this way, making for a movie that always knows what it is doing, even when the audience doesn’t. Whether this approach translates into entertainment or appreciation for the artistry depends on how many minutes one wishes to spend in the often uncomfortable presence of these two often awkward men.
NOTE: There is an end credits scene.
Review Score: 60