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  • Jared Huizenga

‘Limbo’ Won’t Change the World, But it Offers Some Things to Ponder

I think in this day and age, a lot of us know (or at least know of) a refugee or two – people who for various reasons have been forced to leave their homes in search of safety. What most of us aren’t privy to is what these people go through while their in between their old and new lives – something that writer/director Ben Sharrock brings to the big screen with ‘Limbo.’

(L to R) Amir El-Masry as Omar, Ola Orebiyi as Wasef, Kwabena Owuso-Ansah as Abedi, and Vikash Bhai as Farhad in director Ben Sharrock’s LIMBO, a Focus Features release. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

‘Limbo’ tells the story of four refugees from different countries all sent to live on a small (and fictional) Scottish island while they wait to see if their applications for asylum are approved.


Our primary person of interest is Omar, a young Syrian musician whose parents stayed back in the Middle East and older brother took up arms in the country’s civil war. Torn with guilt over leaving everything and everyone behind, and his new island home’s seeming indifference to his proficiency on the oud, Omar is a shell of his former self.


Joining Omar in asylum limbo are his roommates – Farhad, an Afghani man who seems happy to be in a new place where he’s free to be himself; and West African brothers, Wasef and Abedi.


As the foursome navigates their new home and wait to hear what their futures hold, they struggle to fully acclimate to the weather, the technology issues caused by the remote location of the island, and the leering eyes and perceptions of their new neighbors.


My biggest issue with ‘Limbo’ is that it’s billed heavily as a comedic drama. And while it’s true there are some genuinely funny moments – namely an incident involving a neighbor’s chicken and almost every scene taking place in an immersion class the men take to acclimate to their new (possibly temporary) home. But overall, it’s much heavier than I expected it to be. I wasn’t expecting slapstick, and in hindsight I’m glad Sharrock took a more serious tone, but had I known it was leaned more heavily that way I likely would’ve been in a better mind space to process everything.


That said, the cast (who likely aren’t known by many in the U.S., myself included) does a wonderful job of bringing these characters to life and displaying their humanity. These men are adrift, scared, and flawed – and that comes across. And more credit goes to Sharrock for creating complex characters that aren’t simply black and white – they’re simply humans with a lot of gray.

Amir El-Masry (center) stars as Omar in director Ben Sharrock’s LIMBO, a Focus Features release. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

The other “character” that really stands out here is the island, which is brought to life by the cinematography of Nick Cooke. Despite the often overcast skies and the grays that seem to shadow the island throughout, Cooke captures the beautiful landscapes of the island and brings life to it. It’s really a strong pairing for these characters.


There are some things in terms of story, however, that didn’t quite work for me. Omar as the tortured artist struggling to reconcile his past, present, and future is interesting enough, but the others and their backstories are actually more interesting. Unfortunately, they take a backseat (at best) or are entirely glossed over to further Omar’s story. Focusing a little more on these secondary characters and featuring more of the migrant’s interactions with the townspeople – good or bad – would’ve helped push the narrative a bit more. Despite being just over 100 minutes, it did drag a bit in the middle.


‘Limbo’ isn’t life-changing cinema, but it’s interesting enough to keep your interest and poignant enough to make you think about it after the credits roll.


★★★1/2 of ★★★★★