Freehold (2017)

Directed by: Domonic Bridges
Starring: Mim Shaikh, Javiere Botet, Mandeep Dillom and Kola Bokinni
Written by:  Dominic Bridges, Rae Brunton
Runtime: 76 minutes
Source: Precision (UK DVD label)

Emerging into the festival circuit last year, FREEHOLD (2017) would be as quirky as it is unforgettable. Filmed under the title of TWO PIGEONS, Dom Bridges’ stylish theatrical debut is a thorny morality tale steeped in squeamish repugnancy and black lace dark humour.

Bridge’s self-contained concept of a young man unknowingly sharing his compact apartment with a mischievous intruder who silently sleeps within the wall-space and hides within the darkest confines of closets has been fleshed out into a screenplay by Rae Brunton, writer of the successful Nazi zombie OUTPOST (2008) trilogy.

Mim Shaikh plays Hussein, a slippery hipster London estate agent living a hedonistic lifestyle in his small one-bedroom apartment smoking weed, watching porn, eating pizza and playing video games from his ‘lazy boy’ armchair.  Unbeknown to Hussein, his small abode is being occupied by a stealthy interloper Orlan (Javier Botet) who emerges from the wall-space during the daylight hours when Hussein goes out to work wheeling-dealing in the property market.

Surviving on a sparse sustenance of used teabags, threadbare helpings of cereals, and watered-down milk, the mysterious cohabitant silently prowls the apartment during the midnight hours while Hussein sleeps.  Mischievously resetting alarm clocks and altering online diary movements, Orlan’s pranks take a more malicious turn once Hussein’s girlfriend Mel (Mandeep Dhillon) moves in.  From gobbing into the bathroom’s mouthwash to inserting electric toothbrushes into unthinkable orifices, it isn’t long until the strain becomes too much for Mel (especially after finding gay porn downloaded on her laptop . . . “I don’t know anything about ‘Soldier in my ass’…” wails Hussein when confronted) and she leaves.

Hussein’s life quickly deteriorates when boss, work colleagues and clients receive selfie-photos of (someone’s) male genitals from his mobile phone.  Now jobless and with his food being tampered with, Hussein is confined to his apartment gradually falling more and more ill and increasingly paranoid.  Of course, all this is leading to the moment of finality when the bewildered Hussein meets the man who’s been sharing his reality . . . and mouthwash!

Set almost entirely within the singular setting of the apartment, FREEHOLD is beautifully filmed with an imagination and a creativeness that skillfully infuses a real sense of place and space.  The apartment almost deserves a character credit of its own.

Towering at 6’6, Spanish TV actor Javier Botet delivers a graceful, almost balletic, visual and perversely comedic performance as the interloper Orlan.  Javier Botet was born with a genetic condition known as Marfan Syndrome which results in elongated limbs and body frame.  Botet’s incredible physical presence has brought him several memorable appearances in an ongoing slew of prolific horror films since [REC] (2007), usually as demonic beings or monster thingamajigs and is often uncredited as is the case for ALIEN COVENANT (2017).  In FREEHOLD, without the usual mounds of prosthetics or CGI manipulations, Botet easily exhibits what an accomplished actor he really is with the character of Orlan.

Mim Shaikh’s portrayal of the hapless Hussein, a self-obsessed, narcissistic, predatory real estate agent, is so damned good that it becomes quite difficult to feel any pity for him as his life gradually dissolves.  Indeed, there is a profound motivation and insight behind Orlan’s sinister victimization, based upon personal experiences of director Dom Bridges, which is interwoven throughout as Orlan woefully tells his sorrowful tale to two pigeons perched on an outside window ledge.

Final Thoughts
Out of 2017’s crop of British genre offerings that ran the UK horror film festival circuit, FREEHOLD gradually etched its way into my psyche.  FREEHOLD provides a morbid human drama about voyeurism, a social statement on a crowded city population that fuels an unforgiving capitalistic property price market, and even a quirky observation about the potential homosexual undertones between Hussein and Orlan.  FREEHOLD is destined to become one of those ‘word-of-mouth’ independent horror films that begs discovery.

FREEHOLD will revolt you, repulse you, make your skin crawl…and occasionally make you giggle!

Contributed by Tristan Thompson