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What hit me first about The Ghost and The House of Truth was the noise, rowdiness and the grittiness of Lagos. This sort of defies Nollywood’s norm of showing only upscale parts of Lagos and the lives of the upper middle class and their glamorous lifestyles in their glitzy mansions. While we sat expectant, waiting for the film’s story to kick off, the well saturated gritty colouring kept us glued as it set the tone of the film. So we know already at this moment that we are in for serious business.
We are then led into the life of a happy single parent family of modest means in a modest home. Soon the only child of this family goes missing and a search is on for her. The search is headed by a pregnant inspector (Kate Henshaw) who does appear to be headed towards single motherhood. We see through that an emotional connection to the missing child and this child’s mother. When the child’s discovered, she’s been raped, mutilated, and is dead. The prime suspect is an Ayodeji (played by Fabian Adeoye Lojede whose performance is one of my highlights of this film) whom a friend of the missing child, confirms the missing child had gotten into his van, and he’s thus, the last person to be seen with her. But for want of evidence, he cannot be convicted. The bereaved and distraught mother goes ahead to stalk and harass this man until she braves up and avenges her daughter’s death or not.
The film is a thriller on a social issue that is not new to us and so the pull of the film is, finding the girl and then discovering who had raped and killed her. We are seated on the edge of our seats until these conflicts are resolved. What I find most interesting about the film is its humanising of criminals and offenders. Our protagonist, Bola Ogun, mother to the missing Nike, works as a counselor in Reconciliation service. Her work is to help reconcile convicted offenders with victims of their crimes. So we hear from the offender why they had carried out crime and from the victim, how offender has caused them pain. The purpose of the dialogue is to help victims come to terms with what had happened, and for the convicted criminals to understand the impact of their crime and through this maybe find forgiveness from victim, and healing for both victim and convicted criminal. So what’s interesting is seeing the mediator, Bola Ogun become both victim of crime and convicted offender through the film, and in this table turn, we see that we cannot truly understand the pain and circumstances of people and their reaction to those circumstances until we’ve gone through that or a similar situation. This is the film’s message.
In Yoruba culture, we learn from Bola Ogun’s sister (Kemi Lala Akindoju), that it is a taboo for a parent to bury their child, let alone see the dead child’s burial place. This is so because children are considered one of the greatest things in Yoruba culture. So for a parent to lose a child, such a parent has lost an essential factor of a Yoruba’s existence. And for that parent to bury their own child, it is considered the death of the parent itself. Before Bola Ogun sets off to avenge her daughter’s death, she defies tradition by visiting her daughter’s burial place. Are there repercussions for committing this abomination? Or had Bola Ogun in her quest to avenge her daughter’s death accepted her own death or whatever may come to her?
The film’s runtime is 70 minutes. A short time for a feature film, however, the film takes its time to unwrap itself and its purpose. And while there are gripping scenes with dialogues done in a seamless segue of Nigerian English, Pidgin English and Yoruba, some would find that the more emotional breaking scenes were the distant shot of Bola Ogun hugging the pregnant inspector or the scene where the inspector does nothing but play with a toy of her unborn baby or the final scene where Bola Ogun gets to literally sit on the other side of the table.
There are feminist messages in the film. From the smoking Keira Heiwatch to the pregnant inspector and the scene where she and two other female police officers chase a male suspect, subtle messages on feminism are passed.
The Ghost and House of Truth is truly Nigerian, albeit written by non Nigerians and directed by Akin Omotoso, who really has spent a better part of his career telling stories of non Nigerians, and stars a Susan Wokoma as Bola Ogun whose accent struggles to convince us she’s Nigerian. The ankara wears and headties like the pidgin English and Yoruba dialogues are worn loudly in the film as representation of the way everyday Nigerians dress.
Fabian Adeoye Lojede
Kemi Lala Akindoju
Writers: Brian Tilley, Roger Smith and Tracy Whitaker
Producer: Ego Boyo
Cinematographer: Kabelo Thathe
Director: Akin Omotoso