Freehold debuted at this summers Frightfest and was a film that took everyone completely by surprise. The film tells the simultaneous stories of estate agent Hussein (Mim Shaikh) and one of his old customers Orlan (Javier Botet). After a deal went South thanks to some shady dealings on Hussein’s part, Orlan has implanted himself into Hussein’s house and starts to reap his revenge from within the homestead.
Directed by first-time feature director Dominic Bridge, Freehold walks a fine line between horror and comedy. The thought of someone lurking in your house whilst you’re completely oblivious is invasive and disturbing, yet there’s a lot of humour within. Most comes from the fact that the audience are in on everything that is happening while hapless Hussein doesn’t have a clue.
Freehold arrives on DVD on Monday 9th October, and we highly recommend that you take the time to watch it, especially if you missed it at Frightfest and want to see how a modern day horror comedy can be done. Whilst at Frightfest we caught up with both director Dominic Bridges and lead actor Mim Shaikh (of BBC Radio 1 Xtra fame) just after their London debut to find out everything we could about the project.
THN: Where did the idea for Freehold come from?
Dominic Bridges: It was a personal experience from buying a house in London and being messed around by some local estate agents, combined with finding a newspaper article about a lady, it was a Hong Kong newspaper, that someone translated for me about a woman who had been living in this guys house, behind his fridge for three years. So I kinda had a burning hatred for estate agents, but rather than behaving in an overtly aggressive way… what’s a more peaceful way of getting revenge? That’s where it comes from, but then as we’ve discovered over the course of the day talking about it, what I thought was a more peaceful way of seeking revenge is actually really dark and dirty and horrible (laughs).
It was really disturbing and uncomfortable to watch.
DB: (Laughs) I thought it was a comedy!
Mim Shaikh: There are comedic elements.
The comedy is there and it helps to alleviate the tension. The idea that someone’s in your house, going through your things without your knowledge is creepy.
MS: I think if the film was like that [dark and disturbing] then it might get a bit boring. But the fact that it has these breaks, which are elements of comedy between Hussein and his best friend or girlfriend… like this stuff has gone wrong and he doesn’t have a clue, but the audience know exactly what is happening, it makes it feel a lot better.
I love the whole scene where Hussein and his girlfriend are arguing and she’s like ‘well who did it then – the ghost?’ I’ve had that exact conversation with my husband about things, and now I’m like, ‘crap maybe it wasn’t him!’
MS: Yeah maybe it was someone else, the lodger living in the house – give him a break! (laughs) That’s hilarious. I think we can all relate to that though, ‘so’s whose done it then?’ ‘Well I haven’t done it!’, ‘So whose done it then?!’ Somebody’s obviously forgotten that they’ve done it in reality.
So what was it about Hussein that made him stand out as someone you wanted to play?
MS: If I’m being completely honest, I’ve wanted to just get stuck into a project where I can just work on my craft. My agent sent me this script and I read it, and I was was just like, I would love to get this role, I’m gonna go up for it. Then I went into the audition, I remember reading it first and just thinking this character, what an idiot. That’s all I can remember after reading it, and then when I read it for the second time I just realised – no there’s a reason why he’s an idiot. I genuinely believe he doesn’t mean to be an idiot, just due to his circumstance and upbringing or whatever is the reason why he’s like that. When I went into the audition and I was preparing how do I do it, do I do it angry? Or like he’s got something to prove? I just thought let me just strip all of that and do it as if he’s sympathetic and he’s got a bit of empathy and vulnerability. I think that’s what he really is deep, deep, deep down inside, is very vulnerable and insecure. So yeah I did the audition and got the role.
What was the most uncomfortable thing to film?
MS: (Chuckles) I think it was being on the toilet, that was a bit uncomfortable. (Dominic starts to chuckle) Having to wipe my bottom with tissue, that was a bit uncomfortable, I won’t lie to you (Dominic continues to chuckle), and having my backside on show and the director laughs (starts laughing himself). But for me just going in and doing that just made me go ‘cool now I really want to take this seriously and I wanna push myself and see if I can do that.’ Now what’s happened after this is I’m glad that was my first experience because now I don’t feel I have any restrictions in terms of my craft and being able to exhibit characters and display them to people in their raw and honest form. But it was definitely tricky at the time.
DB: I never really thought about it like that, but you’re right, there’s a lot of stuff like that. I would never create that situation where someone would feel uncomfortable, because I know the crew were mostly really good mates, there were a couple of girls in there as well, but mostly it was a group of blokes just stood around (laughs) while Mim’s lay down starkers with some guy holding a knife over him, who’s also in his pants. It’s weird, I’ve never thought of it like that, it’s quite extreme.
MS: I never felt uncomfortable on set or ‘oh my God this is unprofessional’, everyone was ‘grab a towel, here’s a dressing robe, get him warmed up’. It was more the idea of doing it.
DB: Also making jokes about thing, it’s not like there’s an elephant in the room or anything.
MS: And I liked that. Especially working and being in collaboration with people, just make jokes. It was hilarious.
I think you’re one of the first people to use Javier without a ton of make-up and prosthesis, what was it about him that made you think he could embody the role?
DB: I was just interested by him. I think when I saw the test films from Mama – there’s a black and white You Tube clip where they’ve got the wires on him and they’re pulling him and he goes down onto all fours and is moving – I just thought ‘this guy is amazing.’ When I started to look into him more I found that he was a really interesting character, really funny. He deals with life and his condition just by laughing. His first foray into entertainment was being a kids entertainer. He was like a clown. He’d turn up at kid’s parties and freak them out. Can you imagine Javier in a clown mask and his pants? So that didn’t work out. He’s just such an interesting guy, and he found a way that he could perform and use his condition to the best of his ability and enjoy doing it. But at the same time, he’s a really handsome guy, a really good actor and absolutely right physically for the role. With the added comedy of the fact that there’s no way a seven foot guy could really live in your house without you knowing about it.
MS: I love the pairing up of Hussein and Orlan. In terms of just physicality, when you put them next to each other they are complete opposites. Just that whole dynamic on scene is captured so well.
On screen you don’t get to share that much time together, but did you hang out much off set?
MS: Yeah, I mean we had a whole week of rehearsals beforehand and that’s where we really went over one or two of the scenes where we actually have dialogue with one another. That was interesting, but it was just getting to know him as well and seeing what he was going to bring to the table. I remember we all sat around the table and had that conversation about the backstory of the film, where me Dom and Javier were just literally sitting and Dom explained the whole reasoning as to what actually happened in this story, because it’s come from somewhere personal. I remember that was a real moment within the film-making process, before we actually started making the film, I kept thinking ‘oh wow, I know where this has come from now, I understand the meaning behind it, I understand what effect this has had on so and so’. Dom would see Hussein as this kind of person, I see Hussein as this type of person, Javier would be seeing him as this type of person. That was quite important.
DB: I’ve never made a film before, I have no idea what I’m doing other than having a good understanding of people.
MS: And I’ve never acted before.
DB: So that [conversation] was a key moment. Another weird thing is everyone keeps mentioning how they’ve never seen Javier’s face before, but Mim as well. Mim’s well regarded and well known on the radio so everyone’e heard his voice, but never him. He’s done a few things, but not in a film capacity. So it’s quite an interesting dynamic between the two leads.
I loved how the pigeons are used and the way that the story develops with them took me completely by surprise.
DB: That’s Rae’s [Brunton] idea, he completely owns that.
MS: Genius idea.
DB: Really very cool. It’s just when you’re within those confines of that space. Even when we were shooting we were constantly trying to find different ways to use the set. Different bits of art department and props, and the pigeons are very much a part of that. How do you expand that universe that would actually be in the proximity of that environment. They were just flying around the studio. So the first shot is just a shot with two pigeons in and was so hard to film, we were all just chasing these pigeons around trying to get them to do stuff.
Final question – if you could secretly live in someone’s house and torment them, whose would it be?
MS: Oh my God, why did you have to say the word torment? I was into it till then…
DB: Well it’s got to be Trump hasn’t it? (Mim laughs) All day long.
MS: Yes! That is a good answer.
Maybe there already is someone.
MS: If not, can we get an Orlan over there asap?
DB: He’d be well up for that. It’s a big house though, so it’d be a piece of piss to hide in that.
MS: He’s stolen my answer, I can’t even top that.
DB: You could be in the White House for years.
Okay, so what if you were to live in someone’s house and not torment them, you’re just a fly on the wall?
MS: Obama would have been good when he was President. A) because of the house, and B) because of what he was able to achieve and do. Just to see how he operated with his family and what he was like outside of the image that we saw in what he does for a job. That would be wicked.
Freehold is available for digital download and on DVD from Monday 9th October.