Ninth Report | Fantasia 2015

ojuju 75A generosity of spirit and novelty of the setting help overcome Ojuju’s technical limitations and suggest that C.J. Obasi is a director to watch in the future.

 

 

 

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Fantasia may have started out as a largely Asian festival, but today it’s as international as it gets. Case in point: the Nigerian horror film Ojuju, written and directed by C. J. Obasi, is remarkably effective despite being described in publicity materials as having been shot on a “zero budget.” The story involves residents of an urban area who become converted, one by one, into flesh-eating monsters resembling the ghouls of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, with a strong dose of werewolf and a little of the radioactive monsters of the 1950s and 1960s thrown in as well.

In the film, when someone becomes one of these monsters, the other characters say he or she has “turned ojuju.” The original cause of their monstrosity is the consumption of polluted water (according to UNICEF, 70 million Nigerians lack access to clean drinking water), but once a person is bitten, they also become a monster and attack others. The monsters mostly shuffle around like Romero ghouls, so that they are sometimes mistaken for drunks, but when they get close to another person, they attack with the ferocity of a werewolf.

One of the best things about Ojuju is its strong sense of place. It was shot in a Lagos slum neighborhood, a labyrinth of shacks and alleys with only one way to get in or out, which adds to the claustrophobic nature of the story. At the same time, Obasi portrays the slum-dwellers as multi-dimensional characters who have their good and bad points, and are living real lives in difficult circumstances. This generosity of spirit and the novelty of the setting help overcome the film’s technical limitations and suggest that Obasi is a director to watch in the future.

cherrytree 75I wish I could be so positive about Cherry Tree, an Irish horror film having its world premiere at Fantasia. Directed by David Keating and written by Brendan McCarthy, it has a thoroughly professional technical package, but a story made up of bits and pieces of other movies. Worse, it doesn’t seem to have the courage of its convictions, so instead of developing a believable story or characters that behave in recognizably human ways, it tries to buy off the audiences with images of bare breasts, creepy insects, and lots of graphic, gory body horror.

Faith (Naomi Battrick) is an ordinary high school girl with a big problem—her father is dying of leukemia. How handy that her field hockey coach, Sissy (Anna Walton) is a member of a local witch’s coven that specializes in restoring the dead to life, by way of a ritual involving cherries, blood, and millipedes. After a demonstration with a chicken, she offers her services to Faith, but in return Faith must do for Sissy what Mia Farrow did in Rosemary’s Baby (and believe me, Roman Polanski’s film is about 100 times more interesting than this one). There’s some nice location shooting in Cherry Tree (all in County Cork, according to the credits), and the two lead actresses are both striking, but the story is just so silly and derivative, and the images so repetitive (I’ve seen enough bowls of cherries swimming in blood to last the rest of my life) that it’s a chore just to sit through it. | Sarah Boslaugh

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