Limbo Synopsis: An offbeat observation of refugees waiting to be granted asylum on a fictional remote Scottish island. It focuses on Omar (Amir El-Masry), a young Syrian musician who is burdened by the weight of his grandfather’s oud, which he has carried all the way from his homeland.
Set amidst the dreary purgatory of a vacant island, Limbo finds writer/director Ben Sharrock manifesting his own quirky spin on the worldly struggles of traveling refugees. While the film’s eccentricities don’t always connect, Sharrock’s keen and revealing eye extracts a vulnerable journey out of Omar’s desolate search for a newfound home.
Limbo relies more upon its atmospheric mood rather than regurgitating exposition, a decision that thrives under Sharrock’s poised visual sensibility. Along with Cinematographer Nick Cooke, the duo implement an oft-kilter symmetry that consistently transfixes the viewer. Decisions like shooting characters on their own spatial islands and implementing an oppressively drab color scheme work brilliantly to accent the lingering emotions and themes. For a film that swings to the fences with its unique tonal voice (Sharrock’s film feels like a cross between Richard Ayoade’s snark and Taika Waititi’s inventive quirk), it’s impressive seeing each of these quirks represent their own substantive purpose.
Sharrock skillfully nails the challenging nuances of directing. Limbo’s mixture of deadpan humor and deeply melancholic revelations always feels well-balanced, with Sharrock creating creative mixtures of the two contrasting styles. Both aptly work to reflect the isolating pains behind Omar and his peers’ unfulfilling existence. The group finds themselves in a zombified state, going through the same habitual patterns while awaiting the day they can finally begin their lives again. With his assured writing and direction, Sharrock creates a film that captures refugee sentiments without needlessly politicizing the issue. There are some remarkably human insights under the film’s solemnly worn face.
The breakout cast also heightens Limbo’s unique sensibility. Amir El-Masry’s distant stares incapsulate Omar’s longing pains. The actor effortlessly imbues insular dimension from his vacant persona, allowing cracks of profound emotion to come out from the character’s distinctly blank facade. Without much in terms of dialogue, Masry effortlessly commands the audience’s interest.
Perhaps the biggest scene-stealer comes in the form of Vikash Bhai’s debut performance. As Omar’s eager friend/agent, Bhai extracts a range of emotions from his well-tuned tendencies (it’s a character that easily could’ve felt cartoonish, but Bhai never forgets the purpose behind Farhad’s presence). Limbo is at its best when these two share the screen, as their steady kinship becomes an unexpected foundation for the wayward travelers.
Sharrock has an exceptionally singular film on his hands, but the writer/director could still refine a few elements. His comedic flourishes can be a bit too hit or miss at times, with the faltering sequences over-stretching their bounds within repetitive gags. I get how holding on a sequence can lead to some awkward giggles, but that tendency doesn’t work when the concepts aren’t exactly revelatory. The lesser bits reek of the overworked awkwardness that sunk Jared Hess’s latter efforts.
All things considered, Limbo’s personable strengths far exceed any minor missteps. Sharrock’s poetic storytelling operates in its own well-textured frequency, telling his timeless tale of adversity through a distinctly drawn lens. I am excited to see where the writer/director and his talented cast go from here.
Limbo is now playing in theaters before a VOD release on May 21st.