‘Limbo’ Review: Poignant Tale of Refugees From a Different Perspective

Limbo Movie Review
Amir El-Masry, Ola Orebiyi, Kwabena Owuso-Ansah, and Vikash Bhai in ‘Limbo,’ a Focus Features release.
(Photo Courtesy of Focus Features)

A phone booth in the middle of nowhere. A man without a home, lugging around a musical instrument he never plays and appears to resent. These moments capture the quietness and beauty of writer/director Ben Sharrock’s Limbo.

The film’s simple story – four refugees stuck on a remote Scottish island waiting to learn their fate – is at times as absurd as any Wes Anderson production. It’s also emotionally engaging and heart-wrenching.

Limbo centers on the struggles of asylum seekers Omar from Syria (Amir El-Masry) and Farhad from Afghanistan (Vikash Bhai), as well as brothers Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) and Abedi (Kwabena Owuso-Ansah) from Nigeria. These disparate strangers form their own temporary family linked because of what unites them: the desire for a better life that will come with their acceptance into a foreign land.

These four strangely fascinating individuals spend their days among other asylum seekers, attending weird cultural awareness classes to learn how to assimilate into a new country. They shop (mostly at thrift stores), watch sitcoms, and hope for a brighter future. The days turn into months as their paperwork moves slowly through the system.

It’s Omar from Syria who’s the heart and soul of the group and of Sharrock’s Limbo. Omar’s a loving son who calls home (from that phone booth mentioned earlier), saddened he doesn’t have any extra money to send to his parents. He’s broke yet his father’s suggestion that he play his oud (an instrument similar to a lute) on the street corner doesn’t go over well. His arm’s in a cast, plus no one in Scotland cares about oud music.

Omar gets by each day without really accomplishing anything more than simply surviving in a strange land. Some Scots accept these foreigners while others wonder if a terrorist is hiding among the refugees. Omar takes all of this in stride, fully aware he doesn’t control his own destiny.

And that, my friends, is Limbo. It’s not flashy. There aren’t any real antagonists for the central characters to deal with, other than the slow march of time. Omar and his cohorts are just normal, unassuming people with hopes and dreams we can understand and relate to.

The performances are top-notch, the cinematography is stunning, and writer/director Sharrock’s style is crisp and precise. There’s no fluff, no padding, just unique, interesting characters undertaking simple – even ordinary – tasks. The fact Limbo sticks its landing is due to Sharrock’s ability to create sympathetic, captivating characters. We’re given legitimate reasons to root for each of the four refugees to achieve their goals and make new lives for themselves. Limbo also gently reminds us to discard labels and embrace that which separates us.


MPAA Rating: R for language

Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes

Release Date: Apr 30, 2021