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Considering the massive output of the Nollywood film industry, it was probably inevitable that it would eventually get around to appropriating that most familiar of Hollywood tropes, the zombie film. The result is this horror film directed and written by the marvelously named C.J. “Fiery” Obasi which brings the flesh-eating creatures to a Nigerian slum. Winner of the Best Nigerian Movie award at last year’s African International Film Festival, Ojuju was recently showcased at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s New Voices in Black Cinema.
Obasi, whose IMDb bio states that he grew up watching Hammer horror films and reading Stephen King novels, clearly has an affinity for the subject matter. Although made on an obviously miniscule budget, this enterprising genre pic is very well crafted. Infused with both sly humor and genuine thrills, it puts many similarly themed American efforts to shame, with the exoticism of its setting only adding to the overall effect.
Set in a teeming Lagos slum, it provides an all-too-realistic explanation for the sudden transformation of its inhabitants into desiccated figures with an appetite for human flesh: It’s the result of a contaminated water supply, which is certainly a problem endemic to the African nation.
Among those first affected is local drug dealer Fela (Chidozie Nzeribe), who gets bitten early on and suffers the predictable ill consequences as a result.
“If Fela won’t smoke weed, then the situation is really serious,” one of his friends worriedly comments.
The film’s hero is Romero (a charismatic Gabriel Afolayan) — the name’s inspiration is obvious — who, much to his horror, discovers that his pregnant girlfriend has become infected. Along with his friends Emmy (Kelechi Udegbe) and Peju (Omowunmi Dada), he desperately searches for a solution to the situation while trying to stay alive in the process.
“They’ve all turned ojuju,” a character declares in the film in which the word “zombie” is never uttered.
Necessarily limited in terms of special effects and creature makeup — it’s no surprise that the ojuju are initially mistaken for simply being drunk — Ojuju overcomes its technical limitations with well-drawn characters and pungently compelling situations. It certainly indicates that its talented filmmaker, whose sole previous effort was the voodoo-themed Jim & Joan, is eminently capable of moving on to bigger and better things.
Production company: Fiery Film Company
Cast: Gabriel Afolayan, Omowunmi Dada, Kelechi Udegbe, Chidozie Nazeribe, Brutus Rihard
Director-screenwriter-editor: C.J. “Fiery” Obasi
Producers: Oge Ugwu, C.J. “Fiery” Obasi
Director of photography: Tunji Akinsehinwa
Production designer: Victor Akpan
Composers: Beatoven, Wache Pollen
Not rated, 95 minutes
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