In Void, the new psychological drama produced by actor Frederick Leonard and directed by Eneaji Chris, troubling signs arrive early enough.
The film opens with a handsome young man, Tonna, played by Leonard who seems very much within his comfort zone. He is getting ready for work in one of those mass assembled upper scale Lagos apartments that would be typically sterile if it weren’t for the countless pictures of his significant other taking up every available space. Wall to wall, room to room, the pictures of a smiling or sultry Chioma Chukwuka Akpotha- depending on what stage of her career the photos were culled from- look down on Tonna.
He talks to her, makes a show of setting the breakfast table for two and then seeks out her advice on his choice of clothing accessories. If all of this sounds sufficiently creepy, it is because it is. Akpotha’s Mirabel has been dead for a while now, cut down in her prime by a malignancy. Her hubby simply refuses to let go. Their bond was that strong.
Moving on is part of the healing process so as a nod to the land of the living, Tonna romances Tina (Lota Chukwu,) a naïve young lady whose eager to please nature becomes her biggest undoing. Both Leonard and Chukwu have sufficient chemistry, visible in their quiet moments and in the scenes where they are required to sizzle, but something about their union feels off from the get-go.
Tina may have fallen in love unconditionally but Leonard’s agenda gradually begins to unfurl. He simply wants a replacement for his late wife and begins to make outrageous demands that would make any right-thinking person turn and run. But Void plays on Tina’s naivety and places it in the background of the cultural expectation that a woman’s place is with her husband come rain or shine. At least that is the only way to explain her docility in the face of the stifling environment that she finds herself.
Written by Doris C. Ariole, Void is a handsomely made tale of domestic terror, with the controlled cast and indoor scenes pointing to a modest budget. Anyone in a hurry to ascribe labels would be tempted to place Void in the horror genre considering the travails of the heroine but Eneaji isn’t interested in visual thrills or spreading jolts of fear. His engagement with terror delves into the psychological realm, presenting as a case study of grief and the ways that people respond to the unexpected death of a loved one. This way Void emerges more stimulating than the trailer gives it credit for, with Eneaji guiding his actors to a level of internalization of the material that isn’t expected for a modest ‘’television film’’ like this.
The material is such rich fodder and Void gets some credit for at least playing around with the story, teasing out possible directions in the emotional and psychologic realms before choosing an accessible resolution that places it squarely in Nollywood territory.
Further grounding the film and keeping it from aiming higher are the bright colors and cheery production design that appear at odds with the darkness of the story and moodiness demanded of the actors. Throw in Empress Njamah’s clichéd advice-dispensing best friend plus the inconsistencies with the characterization of Leonard’s Tonna and Void starts to falter under its own weight.
It isn’t a film that will start a fire in anyone’s belly but Void’s sensitivity and simplicity is likely to surprise viewers who come in with very little expectations.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.