Movie title: What lies within
Reviewer: Peju Akande
Director: Vanessa Nzediegwu
Cast: Michelle Dede & Paul Utomi, Ebele Okaro, Tope Tedela etc
She is a housewife who loves gardening; she is tilling the earth, pruning out weeds, teasing the soil and planting seeds. She is listening to the radio on her phone with ear plugs as she works; on the radio, the presenters are discussing a recent murder that has left everyone stunned, it’s the murder of a man by his wife. And while the presenters debate the legality of this murder, the camera angle picks up a chameleon in the foliage, it approaches stealthily behind the woman…something ominous is in the air. The woman is sensitive, she unplugs her ears to catch a dark figure creeping up on her as the suspenseful music heightens.
The opening scene of the movie What Lies Within should prepare the discerning viewer for the psychological after effects of domestic violence to victims of this abuse and yet, it doesn’t
The next few scenes lie to the viewer, letting us think we know how these kinds of movies play out as it appears typical-it’s the story of a young couple in Nigeria, they are wealthy, they have a huge house; they live alone with tall gates and taller fences. They dote on one another and kiss goodbye to work, then come home hugging one another at the end of the day…typical.
But What lies within is anything but. Played by Michelle Dede as Fiona and Pat Utomi, as Barry, this young couple have good news to share with family and friends they have invited over to a get together at their home later in the evening; however, their sister- in- law, Ireti, played by Vanessa Nzediegwu, needs help, she needs shelter from her abusive husband who has just been battered yet again.
After the arrival of all expected guests, save for Ireti’s husband, Brian, played by Ken Erics Ugo, a lot of things begin to make sense; snippets of earlier conversations and scenes that at first made no sense begin to tug at the viewer to pay attention; this is when the movie unravels and loose ends meet.
Timelines are established on the screen and creatively erased; scenes are repeated from different perspectives and these lend meaning to previous scenes; leaving the viewer gasping; like when Dimeji, a friend to Fiona comes into the house at 12.15pm, we see Fiona quickly pick up furniture and replace items that have been scattered on the floor. A previous scene had established a neat living area, so what transpired before then to cause the clutter and disarray we see?
Michelle Dede is amazing in this movie; she is the cool headed wife of a rich guy whose mother is your typical monster- in- law (played by veteran actress, Ebele Okaro.) But under all of her veneer of calm, lies a raging fire, a fire that needs little to be stoked before it flares in your face; the fire that began smouldering from the time the young Fiona began to witness incidents of violence against her mother by her father.
The guest toilet downstairs is a forbidden area, the viewer knows what lies within that toilet and every time someone approaches the toilet area, you hold your breath, fearful something dreadful will be discovered; this is when the import of what the movie tries to tell hits home and hard too.
Applause should go to Vanessa Nzediegwu’s directional debut because like they say, she killed it dead and this in itself is rather disturbing.
She told a typical story in an atypical way; she used flash backs that tie beautifully with established timelines; like when the doorbell rings in the present, the viewer is taken back in time to another timeline when the same door opened to introduce another character; the viewer soon finds for instance the horror that transpired between timelines 6.57am and 12.15pm; the house witnessed a horrifying scene and only two people are witnesses to this horror.
Nzediegwu adopted compugraphics to demonstrate the gruesome murder of a father by his daughter and thus spared viewers the blood and gore that often follow scenes like this; she adopted camera angles that say a lot more than the characters and most of all, the entire story happened in one day and at one location and yet the viewer isn’t bored!
Call it a psychological thriller, call it a movie Nigeria isn’t prepared for and you may be right. This is the kind of theme explored in foreign films; we aren’t like them, we say, but there are several Fionas living among us; there are more potentials waiting in the wings; there are several like Ireti and Derrick who need help and most of all counselling.
What lies within is a movie to watch but despite its fine points, there are scenes and conversations that do not quite do justice to the story; like when the mother- in -law goes round looking for dust in the house, like really?
Fiona isn’t your average daughter -in -law; she is neither an illiterate nor a docile wife as often portrayed by female characters in many Nigerian movies, certainly Ebele Okaro’s role as mother -in -law is over played; more so if this Mother- in- law is such a nosy and annoying one, it’s curious she didn’t break into the toilet herself instead of sending someone.
Another thing to note, the end scenes appear assumed; in a garden as small as we see of Fiona’s, burying anything less than six feet will envelope the house and surrounding neighbourhood with an odour so putrid it will literally wake the dead and yet, she pulls this off so easily leaving viewers to wonder how convincing it was achieved.
These are a few mysteries that leave the story a bit tacky. However, these aren’t strong enough to prevent a standing ovation for the movie What lies within. Vanessa Nzediegwu should be proud.