Despite featuring Game of Thrones heavyweights Lena Headey and Iain Glen as an immigration officer and her boss, respectively, The Flood quickly makes it clear that this story is not about their characters but is instead about Haile (Ivanno Jeremiah) and others like him, who make up the flood of people headed to other countries and looking for something better and safer. Much of the emotion is wrapped up in Haile and his traveling companions, and Headey’s and Glen’s characters, Wendy and Philip, are pushed aside.
Directed by Anthony Woodley, The Flood switches between Haile’s immigration interview, conducted by Wendy, and his journey to seek asylum in the UK, one that culminates in a confrontation involving police and a knife. Because Haile wouldn’t kill someone crossing the border in his home country of Eritrea, he was charged with treason and tortured before fleeing. Haile is the sole survivor from aboard a boat of immigrants, and once on land, after days of walking, he wanders into the Calais Jungle, a camp for refugees. (Woodley, writer Helen Kingston, and producer Luke Healy volunteered in the Calais Jungle, and pieces of that time provided material for the film.)
At the camp, Haile meets Faiz (Peter Singh) and Faiz’s wife, Reema (Mandip Gill). Because Haile speaks English well, Faiz says all of them can get to the UK on the money he and Reema have saved, as long as Haile goes to Nasrat (Arsher Ali), who will help get them on a lorry. Once on the lorry, Faiz dies of a sickness, and eventually police pull over the lorry, which ultimately leads to Haile’s asylum interview.
Headey and Glen’s characters are predictable, especially for this type of film, which is that of a “public servant suffering in life until someone comes along and changes things” film. Wendy is recently divorced and finds comfort in drinking at home and at work, where she keeps her alcohol concealed in a plastic bottle. Her tone during interviews rarely changes between terse and serious, but she begins to change as she strikes up a rapport with Haile.
She wants to help, but it’s unclear why Haile is the first of her interviewees to leave an impact. Yes, Haile was abandoned by his mother, and Wendy is searching for a way to co-parent from afar, but besides not wanting her daughter to feel like she’s been abandoned, it is not explained why this is the first person to impact her so drastically when she seems to be an emotional mess behind closed doors.
Glen’s role consists of generic boss tendencies, such as wanting to keep up with quotas, telling Wendy when she gives Haile too much hope, implying that her divorce may be impacting her work, etc. Since Haile’s flashbacks take up so much space, there isn’t room for other character development, and Glen and Headey are not given the opportunities they need to convince us that their stories are just as important.
Haile has sleepy, sad eyes, causing sympathy on sight alone. With his personable and warm nature, evident in interactions with Wendy and with Reema, feeling a connection to him is easy. He emotes deeply, and between the tears Jeremiah sheds and his far-off looks, the pain Haile is experiencing becomes tangible, and at times it maybe resembles a sliver of the pain that real people who endure this trek experience.
In a scene toward the end, Haile dreams he’s drowning in his room, which fades under water as he bangs on the door and window for help that won’t come. It’s a scene that communicates the clearest message about how broken the system is.
This film is trying to tackle two parts of the immigration system — the officers and the asylum seekers — but is really only doing justice for one of them.