Bola ‘Enigma’ Akanbi’s short film “Thorn” (2018) may not be piercing but its subject matter is a painful reminder of our society’s refusal to confront the dangers of implosions suffered by Mentally Displaced Persons.
The film starts with a radio programme in a vehicle, evoking memories of the first scene in Tunde Kelani’s “Maami”. Just like the latter’s main character Kashi, Bola’s lead, Tony has daddy issues. However the problems that turned Kashi into a needy man who must fix his past to move on have turned Tony into a Shiron ( Moonlight ); reinventing himself into something too strong to allow anyone guess that he was ever a victim. Whenever his past comes calling however, he doesn’t embrace it; He beats it back in (as seen in the way he turns off the radio when the on-air discussion veers into a conversation involving parental love). This emotional distancing could also explain why a grown man like him is still single.
But all is not doom and gloom, Tony has done well for himself; he has his own car and a flat in a nice part of town. He is a quiet neighbour who comes home after a long day like any other person except that on this particular evening, trouble meets him at his door. This is perhaps the most visually poignant part of the movie; Tony is in a well- lit hallway when disturbing noise from his neighbour’s apartment pushes him to knock on their door but when his neighbour opens up, his apartment is dark. Tony is drawn to it, out of concern (or curiosity perhaps) but quickly shut out before he can do anything. No sooner has he turned away do the noises resume and this time the lure of the situation gets too strong to resist. He gives into his rage and allows it push him into a dark place; *literally and metaphorically*. Everything moves very fast from here.
Under the false impression that his neighbour had been beating his partner, he is triggered and his painful past floods his mind, provoking memories and emotions he has tried so hard to push down. Unfortunately his neighbour’s look and expressions don’t help matters as they are heavily reminiscent of his father’s, so when Tony moves to strangle his neighbour, there is no mens rea- he is only trying to stop the painful memories. The film predictably descends from here but sadly makes a mess on the way to a hurried ending.
The director distances himself from Tony’s emotions, losing moments he could have used to build intensity and draw compassion for a character who doesn’t give much to be liked for. No one dies that easily, strangling the neighbour was a good opportunity to show the anger and pain in Tony’s eyes and the struggle/helplessness in his victim’s. Even if it is argued that Tony blacked-out from rage, his neighbour obviously didn’t. Of course Sambasa delivers post-murder realization well, unfortunately the camera is too busy dancing around and cutting away- in a style reminiscent of films from the industry’s VHS/DVD era- to allow the audience empathise with the living victim. Even the much lauded twist looks badly contrived on a second watch; did he pick up the DvD on the dinning table? If so, what did he now play on the TV? It’s also a big let down when Tony’s realization gets watered down by bad blocking and poor framing choices.
The final picture of Tony coiled up like a baby is very reminiscent of James Dean as Jim Stark (another character with parenting issues) in the final scene of Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel without a Cause”; both character’s having just witnessed death are thrown into a chasm of dark emotions but sadly for Tony, there’s no one to pick him up. Help never comes; no police, no neighbours.
This film is a harsh reminder of the Nigerian reality where there isnt enough awareness on mental health in general, resulting in many victims being widely ignored and left to their own devices to sort themselves out because there are many other thorns to worry about on this crown called Nigeria.
Suicide comes to mind.
Bola Enigma seems set to follow in -his boss- Kunle Afolayan’s foot steps and walk the path of stories cloaked in darkness and riddled with murders, or is too early to say? Perhaps he needs a few more films to find his voice. He would do himself good to develop his understanding of dialogue as he improves on what looks like an already decent knowledge of the camera. Nonetheless, Bola blows a decent tune on his first take (or is it) and hopefully he’ll be able to prove his competence in the “real world”.
THORN wasn’t painful to watch at all.
Moshood Fattah, is an actor with degrees in Performing Arts from the Universities of Ilorin and Lagos. He is an environmentalist and proud father of three cats. He is an avid Jay-Z fan and has an incredible feet fetish.