Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Director Dominic Bridges and co-writer Rae Brunton strike a delicate balance between the comedic and the sinister."

In the past year, just over a third of house-hunters in London reported that they had lost the homes they tried to buy to last-minute offers. Things aren't much better for renters, with prices skyrocketing and 3,193 cases of rental fraud recorded in 2015. But people still need places to live, and real estate agents know that there's a lot of money to be made. The more ruthless those agents are, the better they do.

Hussein (Mim Shaikh) is such an agent. He's got the patter, the cheeky chappie charm, oodles of confidence and some outrageous suits. He gets results - sometimes a dozen sales a day. But Hussein also has a problem. Unbeknownst to him, Orlan (Javier Botet), a client he screwed over in the past, has moved into his house and begun a campaign of revenge.

Do you get those moments when you can't find something and you're sure you left it in the usual place? Perhaps you blame the other people in your household only to have them insist they didn't move it; perhaps you briefly doubt your own sanity. Hussein has a lot of such moments. When girlfriend Mel (Mandeep Dhillon) moves in after a holiday, the two quickly begin to blame each other. Hussein, who is not exactly romantic to begin with, tells himself it's not a big deal if things go wrong between them, but he's gradually losing his connections to the world.

Director Dominic Bridges and co-writer Rae Brunton strike a delicate balance between the comedic and the sinister. What begin as ridiculous practical jokes on the part of Hussein's secret flatmate progress to the disgusting and thence to the seriously malicious. As Hussein begins to break down, physically and mentally, things which at first seemed trivial begin to take on a darker aspect. At first, Bridges' direction invites us to feel afraid for Orlan, alert to the fact that he might get caught. As it becomes apparent that his activities are escalating, the balance tips in the other direction and we begin to fear for Hussein. Despite the laughter, the tension never lets up.

The film's original title, Two Pigeons, comes from the birds who are the only witnesses to what is going on. Strutting about on the windowledge, they share conversations that add an additional poignancy to what we see.

Shaikh is superb in the central role, making Hussein self centred, arrogant and sometimes shockingly obnoxious but also gifting him with a kind of innocence that makes the audience stay with him even when he arguably deserves what he gets. He has to carry the whole weight of the film and keep it interesting even when Hussein has no idea what's going on. Only once, when Hussein telephones his mother, do we glimpse the hidden pressures that might have made him the way he is. Opposite him, Botet has a lot less screen time but is free to deliver a much more raw, emotional performance, these clashing styles emphasising the difference between the two characters.

With its commentary on the gap between the rich and poor in London society, and on the empathy gap which stems from it - helping to make Hussein blind to what's going on around him - Freehold reveals layer upon layer of exploitation. It's deliciously petty in places and also includes scenes of excruciating ickiness which even Frightfest's hardened horror fans winced at. It's hard to believe this is Bridges' first feature, such is the confidence and poise with which he has pulled it off. Catch it if you can.

Reviewed on: 26 Aug 2017
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Hussein, a wide-boy estate agent, doesn't realise he's sharing his apartment with a forgotten stranger, a master of concealment - until his campaign of revenge starts to hit home.

Director: Dominic Bridges

Writer: Dominic Bridges, Rae Brunton

Starring: Mim Shaikh, Javier Botet, Mandeep Dhillon, Kola Bokinni, Michael McKell

Year: 2017

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: UK

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