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‘Ile Owo’ Is A Disappointing Attempt at Nigerian Horror

Dare Olaitan’s vision is evident but, unfortunately, it loses its way in the execution.
June 3, 2023
4:27 pm

Over the years, Nollywood has rarely delved into the horror genre, leaving audiences craving for a spine-chilling experience. However, director Dare Olaitan (known for “Dwindle”) attempts to break this barrier with his new psychological thriller, Ile Owo. With promises of dark secrets and unsettling revelations, the film debuts on Netflix, aiming to captivate viewers with its haunting narrative. Although it presents some intriguing elements, Ile Owo ultimately failed to deliver a memorable horror experience.


The film opens with a narration of a folk tale, depicting a wealthy patriarch’s futile quest for immortality. A sorceress, instead, offers him the chance to grant eternal youth and power to his sons, setting the stage for a tale filled with despair, voodoo, and a battle between good and evil. We are then introduced to Busola, a nurse navigating a troubled life with a bedridden father, a cheating fiancé, and a god-fearing mother. As she embarks on a new relationship with Tunji, one of the sons from the prologue, she soon discovers a house of horrors lurking beneath the surface.


While the premise holds promise, the execution of Ile Owo lacks the necessary finesse and focus. The film fails to deliver genuine scares, leaving audiences longing for the expected jump scares and spine-tingling moments that define the horror genre. The portrayal of Satan, though intended to evoke horror, was inadequate and ends up resembling a mere cosplay. His machinations lack the sense of impending doom that should accompany such a character. Even the pivotal moment when Busola uncovers her sacrificial fate lacks the desired impact.


Dare Olaitan on set

Despite these shortcomings, the performances in Ile Owo are commendable. The actors do their best with the material at hand, but their efforts alone are not enough to salvage the film. The plot needed more depth and magic to truly engage the viewer, as the audience finds themselves staring at the screen for 90 minutes with a straight face. A strong horror movie requires a compelling plot as its backbone and, without it, the film becomes a collection of eerie scenes without real meaning or purpose.


One of the film’s major drawbacks is its failure to address key events adequately. Certain plot developments remain ambiguous, leaving viewers with unanswered questions. The film’s build-up to the grand finale is shaky, and the resolution between good and evil lacks impact. What happens to the wives and family of Owo? Are Tunji and his brothers now the sole heirs of the Owo family after the spirit of Sagbadewe returns to Fijabi? Does being sacrificed to the spirit mean servitude or death? The lack of clarity raises doubts and confusion, leaving viewers questioning what they have just experienced.


In terms of cinematography, costumes, and locations, Ile Owo manages to create a gloomy atmosphere and occasional moments of uneasiness. The film succeeds in establishing dread and tension through its use of background noises and settings. However, these elements alone cannot compensate for the film’s weak plot and unsatisfactory conclusion.


Family affair

While Ile Owo attempts to distinguish itself from typical Nollywood productions, it still relies on clichéd comedic elements and tired tropes. The film’s comic relief, provided by Bukunmi “KieKie” Adeaga-Ilori as Busola’s friend, offers some respite from the underwhelming storyline. However, the reliance on the “virgin sacrifice” trope is disappointing and perpetuates harmful narratives. It is disheartening to see women being portrayed as literal sacrificial lambs for the progress or trauma of men. The emphasis on virginity and “innocence” reduces a woman’s value to her sexual status, contributing to a harmful purity culture. While it may be argued that Nollywood reflects certain cultural realities, films should be cautious of the subtexts and messages conveyed through these tropes.


Despite its flaws, Ile Owo does dramatize the director’s attempt to tell a poignant tale while exploring supernatural elements. Dare Olaitan’s vision is evident but, unfortunately, it loses its way in the execution. The film’s inability to provide a compelling conclusion and a sense of closure undermines its anticipated effects and weakens its impact on the audience.


In terms of cultural representation, Ile Owo does offer a glimpse into Nigerian folklore and spirituality, which adds a layer of authenticity to the story. It highlights the rich traditions and beliefs deeply rooted in Nigerian culture, providing a unique perspective for international audiences. However, the film’s narrative flaws overshadow its cultural significance, leaving viewers wanting more.


Mundane horror

One aspect where Ile Owo does succeed is its portrayal of Busola’s ring of security provided by her mother. The dynamic between Busola and her mother adds depth to the story, which demonstrates the strength and resilience of women in the face of adversity. These moments serve as a reminder of the potential the film had to explore meaningful themes that create a more captivating narrative.


Ile Owo marks a step in the right direction for Nollywood’s exploration of the contemporary elements of the horror genre. However, despite commendable performances and moments of atmospheric cinematography, Ile Owo fails to leave an impression.


It is hoped that Nigerian filmmakers will learn from Ile Owo’s failure as they strive to deliver truly captivating and unforgettable horror experiences for audiences both in Nigeria and around the world.


Release date: 19 May 2023

Runtime: 1 hour, 35 minutes, 1 second

Streaming service: Netflix

Director: Dare Olaitan

Cast:  Bisola Aiyeola, Immaculate Oko-Kasum, Taye Arimoro, Bukunmi Adeaga-Ilori, Ademola Adedoyin, Efa Iwara, Mofe Ducan, Sophia Alakija, and Tina Mba.

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