Dare Olaitan's latest feature film is a daring horror flick, one weighed down by an inconclusive and weak narrative.
Nollywood hasn't extensively explored the horror genre, at least not in recent years. Despite being lo-fi and kitschy, Nollywood was originally founded on horror movies which seamlessly blended superstitious beliefs, mythologies, folklore, and phobias into a breathtaking golden era. So when filmmaker and director Dare Olaitan (Dwindle, Knock Out Blessings ) ー who has built a reputation for being daring and inventive ー breaks this barrier with his new horror movie, Ile Owo, there were a lot of expectations about how this film will drive yearning Nollywood cinephiles who have been craving for diversity with our storyline.
The psychological thriller takes us into the world of Akanni Owo, a man who has everything but wishes to live forever. He meets with Fijabi (Bisola Aiyeola), a witch who informs him that although his soul has already been claimed, she can still intervene to spare his sons from death, an inevitable human end. But there is a catch; a ritual must take place every 25 years in which an innocent young bride must be offered to the spirit of Sagbadewe.
The opening sequence of the film provides a context for what to expect with the storyline, the plot then shifts to Busola (Immaculata Oko-Kasum), who has always been unlucky with her love life and meets Tunji (Efa Iwara), the man who appears to be her unanswered prayers, just after ending a romance. In the course of events, she learns too late that not everything that glitters is gold after some unsettling findings.
Ile Owo provides an interesting venture into the horror genre, with a suspenseful beginning that compels viewers to dive into the unknown. It is important to keep viewers' attention throughout the film, even though it is aimed at treading horror waters. As the various arcs progress, however, the narrative is lost as the story is overshadowed by the ominous elements rather than the overall plot, and the genuine intent of the director’s vision to portray a riveting tale of the Owo family was replaced with the showcase of the horror aesthetics which by the way was a great effort by the SFX team and editing crew.
No matter what genre of film you're making, it is important that the central component of every story must be a compelling plot, without that, the film might merely serve as a collection of gory scenes without any real meaning.
Ile Owo’s build-up to the grand finale is shaky, leaving many unanswered questions not because it tries to frighten or captivate its viewers with its production design and horrific feel, but because it leaves a lot of the characters hanging without an actual conclusion to their character arc and this only makes the audience forget the essence of the film.
Horror movies create dread, tension, and uneasiness about the unknown and we get that, but the ease and tension with this project only take us back to the root of Nollywood’s vices, storytelling structure. A good horror movie goes beyond using certain elements, such as sound design, jump scares, and relentless pace, to create a legitimately frightening experience. A focused and compelling story is just as important. Despite its occasional background noises and gloomy atmosphere, Ile Owo's story fails in the final act as a result of its lack of a satisfying conclusion or closure.
Despite Ile Owo’s flaws, which make it ultimately forgettable, it's a brave venture regardless. One that paves the way for more potential horror films to come. This is a welcome change for a neo-Nollywood churning out too many cliché themes and formulaic narratives in their romances and crime movies.