The Flood (Woodley, 2019)

Wendy is an immigration officer working in the U.K.  Daily, she listens to the stories of desperate refugees and determines their fate.  Do they stay, or do they return?  She has become calloused by her job and broken by her shattered personal life.  Today, she meets Haile, who has escaped persecution in Africa and is seeking asylum in the U.K.  

The low-budget film The Flood tackles this global issue of immigration and displaced refugees.  As Haile tells Wendy his story, she must decide if he will receive asylum and safety in this new country, or if he must return to the dangers awaiting him in his homeland.

Two newcomers, director Anthony Woodley and writer Helen Kingston, sculpted this intimate story of a man’s battle for survival.  We watch Haile as he is interrogated by Wendy in the present.  As he answers her questions, we flash back to the perilous journey that has brought him to this determining moment. Unfortunately, the decision to tell the story in this fashion impedes its impact. 

The timing is right for this film. Immigration is an important issue. The intimate approach is appropriate. However, we know Haile survives his journey because we are privy to his interrogation, stripping away any suspense.  We know Haile is telling the truth because we experience the adventure he is describing, eliminating any uncertainty about Wendy’s judgment. As a result, the director and writer are forced to include manipulative melodrama in a weak effort to stir emotion within its audience – from a divorced mother craving to see her child, a sacrificial act of love, and even an out-of-place vision of an all-consuming flood.  

Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones,” “300”), as Wendy, is a strong presence on screen.  She is stern but maintains the fragility that is masked by her tough exterior.  Newcomer Ivanno Jeremiah, playing Haile, has piercing eyes that can at one moment be fierce and in the next moment, weak and vulnerable.  As good as these performances are, they can’t make up for a dispassionate script about an important, impactful topic.  Yes, there are a couple suspenseful moments — one at the beginning of the film during a traffic stop and another scene of refugees in a truck trying to remain undetected.  Aside from those moments, the film misses the opportunity to let the audience experience the journey through Haile’s eyes.  We always know what will happen to him before it takes place.  As a result, we never feel his emotions:  we are not scared when his crowded raft begins to sink into the sea, we feel no tension when he, unaccompanied, negotiates with a violent criminal, we sense no apprehension when he huddles and hides among strangers in a lorry, which is British for tractor trailer (I had to look it up).

Haile is experiencing “firsts” in every scene – a new location, a new challenge, or a new relationship.  And yet, each moment seems familiar to our protagonist.  He never takes a moment to understand his surroundings.  He is never curious.  As a result, I (as the audience) am not curious, I am not engaged, and I lose interest.

The Flood is a movie that should be made.  For heaven’s sakes, the first frame of the film tells us, “Currently, 70 million people have been forcibly displaced by persecution, conflict, and violence around the world.”  Those numbers ensure that the story should be told, but if it’s told poorly, the impact on the audience will be diminished.  Perhaps this topic deserved a bigger budget and more time to get it right.    

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