Written by Lois Kennedy
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sergi Lopez, Sophie Okonedo
Sounds like a porno, but isn’t. Okwe is an African cab driver/doctor/hotel desk clerk in England. His hotel boss Juan is running a kidney ring, which Okwe discovers when he finds human remains in a toilet. Soon his Turkish friend Senay, discouraged by her life working in a sweatshop (and being regularly sexually harassed), decides she wants to exchange her kidney for a passport. Okwe agrees to perform the surgery for two passports—one for Senay and one for himself. But the deal doesn’t go down like it should, culminating in a dark twist.
Okwe is a fascinating character. By day he drives a cab, treats his coworkers for STDs, and plays chess with his friend Guo Yi, who works at a hospital crematorium. He likes to “rescue those that have been let down by the system.” By night, he works in a hotel, a business “about strangers.” (The title springs from Juan’s statement that said strangers do dirty things, and Okwe’s job is to make things pretty again.) Through it all, he never complains.
But the film isn’t just about Okwe—it’s full of interesting characters, most notably women who are beaten down but eventually stand up for themselves. Senay is a faithful Muslim, and her virginity is compromised when her sweatshop boss makes her fellate him. Juliette, a prostitute and frequent visitor of Okwe’s hotel, is similarly used and mistreated. However, Senay bites her employer, and Juliette punches a man for slapping her. Having seen plenty of movies where I just didn’t care about the characters, it’s refreshing to have people to root for.
The film has a noble purpose: to document “the people you do not see.” Besides the main characters’ plights, there is a subplot about an African man who “swapped his insides for a passport”; unfortunately the job was shoddy, and he is left with a horrible, painful infection—for which he can’t go to hospital (that’s not a typo, English people say “to hospital”) to get treated. However, the message can be a bit heavy-handed (symbolism doesn’t get much more transparent than a human heart in a toilet), with dialogue like, “You have nothing. You are nothing,” and Okwe’s soliloquy toward the end of the movie. But for the most part it’s involving and intense, infused with occasional bits of humor. It’s not strictly a horror movie, but give it a look if you’re in the mood for a little gore—and heart (and kidney).
Lois Kennedy is an avid horror fan who loves to write. You can find her on Horrornovelreviews, Facebook, WordPress, and YouTube.