A man gurns at himself in the mirror. He brushes his teeth, spits toothpaste down the toilet he’s sitting on and then walks out in truly ridiculous clothing to screw someone over. Director Dominic Bridges’ Freehold is one of the strangest films at this year's FrightFest.
Alternatively titled Two Pigeons, Freehold concerns an estate agent whose home is invaded by a guy who is naked but for his (heavily stained) underpants. This intruder proceeds to play merry havoc while periodically intoning to pigeons on the window ledge how vital home security is to health and happiness. Yes, this film wears its artiness on its sleeve.
Javier Botet (of Mama and the film adaptation of Stephen King’s It this year) has the brooding manner and elongated limbs caused by Marfan Syndrome to make the frankly disgusting things he does appear deeply deliberated and philosophical, especially when captured in a Dutch angle. Indeed, it is his difference that makes this film feel profound because it highlights the gaping chasm between how we picture the ‘realtor’ ready view of living in our little boxes versus how gooey, gassy and viscous our activities actually are. Sections in which the naturally handsome Botet recalibrates from his torment and croons plaintive foreign songs into an unassuming guitar further enhances the contrast. At the same time, however, you are left with the feeling that if another actor were playing the role, the plot itself would appear (wall)paper thin.
Mim Shaikh does well as the wideboy who is nonetheless a kinetic and likeable character, suspect tastes in home furnishing aside. He is believable if you have lived in less than kind economic circumstances, which it seems is half the point the film is trying to make. It is however absurd (rather than absurdist) to accept that his relationships are disrupted so quickly without any attempt from the characters involved to get help when the rug is pulled from under them. Quite frankly, their ability to function at the level of social success that leads to buying expensive shampoo and flats in the south east at such a young age suggests they are not daft and Mandeep Dhillon (as Mel) simply exudes a streetwise sweetness. The film also has more than a slightly jagged edge in a strange little section that trips between Shakespearean-style poetry and rap and back again to hammer home the idea that we need to reconsider what we think of as peculiar or unethical behaviour. It gets away with it only because of Shaikh’s self-assured swagger, though even that feels a little under stress here.
Freehold deserves mention for its strong central performances and defiant artistry. It teeters on the edge of camp pretension before whipping out its raison d’etre and being unapologetically political. That said, the sheer amount of bodily fluids displayed before it forecloses means it slightly outstays its welcome.
FREEHOLD / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: DOMINIC BRIDGES / SCREENPLAY: DOMINIC BRIDGES, RAE BRUNTON / STARRING: JAVIER BOTET, MANDEEP DHILLON, MIM SHAIKH, MICHAEL MCKELL / RELEASE DATE: UK RELEASE TBA