When introducing his film Freehold at FrightFest this year, director and co-writer Dominic Bridges told the assembled audience it was about his “loathing of estate agents.” This struck a chord with many folks including myself having dealt with a procession of overpaid plonkers and loud mouthed liars over the years whenever it came to moving house.
The central character of Freehold fits both the above profiles, garishly dressed money loving Hussein a man happiest when he’s playing unwitting clients off each other while spouting bull and hoping for a guzump to gain even more capital.
Although he might dress sharp and smell sweet his own flat is a pig sty littered with take away boxes, used tissues and stinking laundry and this is probably the reason he has not noticed that he has a house guest. Concealed in the walls is Orlan (Javier Botet) who comes out while Hussain is away or asleep surviving off his leftovers and eking out an existence from whatever he finds scattered around the unkempt apartment.
However the strange relationship is anything but symbiotic as Orlan mounts a menacing campaign of confusion and pain to drive his unaware house mate to the edge of sanity and straight into physical sickness.
Replacing pricey bath products with bleach, using the toothbrush to clean his ass and stealing, swapping, interfering and throwing away things throughout the flat amongst even more putrid pranks Hussain’s world slowly slips into chaos with the impact felt far further when his girlfriend Mel (Mandeep Dhillon from David Brent: Life on the Road and Nina Forever) moves back in to the madness.
Sick and twisted in a number of ways Bridges dark comedy begins as a well shot surreal and sinister story which diverts into a disgusting drama as the love birds are torn apart by mistrust and mind games all created by their secret tenant who has his own reasons for his unclean, unhinged and unrelenting actions.
The actors are excellent especially Javier Botet a perfectly cast physically imposing figure better known in horror for playing a variety of terrifying monsters in movies from Mama to REC to The Revenant to The Conjuring 2. Without the mask in Freehold Botet unbottle’s immense amounts of depth and pathos as Orlan and this is perhaps the films biggest problem as the audience finds themselves lost on who to identify with especially as the latter part of the film which also paints Hussain as more a victim than a villain.
With both characters coming across as sympathetic within the script, penned by Bridges and Rae Brunton, the further the film moves forward the more fun is drained out of the increasingly gratuitously gross moments as Hussain’s life is destroyed.
The answer would be to move either character towards an extreme and head towards some true horror however this does not happen making for a muddled final act where we are left watching one man being psychologically and tangibly destroyed by another already on the edge of his own black hole of oblivion.
Entertaining and insane credit must be given to Freeholds originality and attempt to deliver a more complex concept than the puerile punishments and crude comedy it contains however the final moments of the movie might make you wonder if Bridges has a softer spot for estate agents than he actually admits.