I must have been too young at the time when the original Domitilla was released. Older siblings and friends talked about it in hushed tones to avoid queries from the adults around as to how they got to see the film. Domitilla (1996) was a first of its kind type of film in Nigeria whose plot presented single women as central characters having such risque adventures. Domitilla, the 2023 reboot, sports a similar plot to the previous installment but remolded to fit contemporary times, as director Zeb Ejiro (also director of the original), who is making an industry comeback with the film, stated that the trans-generational nature of the societal challenges that inspired the original has also prompted the reboot, in order to accommodate for socio-cultural advancements.
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The film starts dramatically with Ekwutosi (Onyinye Odokoro) escaping an arranged marriage on her wedding day. She flees to Lagos to meet her friend (Chioma Okafor) and they reignite their dreams of becoming established fashion designers. Ekwutosi meets Mama Vee (Elvina Ibru) during one of her side hustles, who introduces her to Domitilla, an underground flesh selling world where customers come to satisfy their desires discreetly. She meets two other girls, Fisayo (Teniola Aladese) and Promise (Uzoamaka Anionuh), who have also been brought in as escorts to pay debts owed to Mama Vee. Mama Vee has her hands full. She runs a child trafficking business and an organ harvesting ring on the side; she is being investigated closely by a police inspector (Deyemi Okanlawon) whose efforts are being thwarted by the corrupt commissioner of police who is on Mama Vee’s payroll. When the girls realize who Mama Vee really is and the level of danger they are in, they team up with the police inspector to bring her down.
Having a more ambitious plot than the original, Domitilla packs more elements into its story: an underground prostitution ring, child trafficking, the corrupted state of the law enforcement and organ harvesting. Like the narrator says at the beginning, “this no be your normal ashawo story”. However, the inclusion of this bagful of elements becomes the undoing of what could have been another classic. With this assortment of elements, the details are just not well managed. There is a serious lack of cohesion that leaves the story jumping from one detail to another, making it lack a consistent narrative.
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Adding to the deficiency of the story is the amount of relevance given to too many characters in the plot. Although they generally have common motivations and intentions, they are bereft of concrete backstories (except Fisayo). Most of the exposition is done through dialogue in passing, making it hard to comprehend the personal motives of the characters. Ekwutosia has dreams of becoming a big fashion designer and she finally gets enough money to pursue her dreams and she still chooses to delve into prostitution; this is not by any means implausible, but a proper motivation should have been established to push her in that direction— greed, suffering etc. The end result of the inadequate management of the characters is a disjointed narrative and acting that leaves very little to be desired.
Also dampening the experience of Domitilla is the pacing of the film. Everything moves slowly, contradicting the idea and nature of the story. The actions are not depicted as dramatic as the plot suggests. Like a fist in an oversized glove, the film is unable to deliver that gut punch feeling. This directly impacts the acting performances as none of the cast fulfills the potential of their characters. An ineffective exploration of the relationships between the characters results in a visible lack of chemistry among the ensemble. This leads to the acting efforts being wasted as the characters are not well defined, especially the role of mute henchman (Stan Nze) and police inspector played by Deyemi Okanlawon (Elesin Oba) whose attempt at cutting a philosophical character looks out of place. Nevertheless, other members of the cast like Elvina Ibru (Kambili), Teniola Aladese (Love in a Pandemic) and Onyinye Odokoro (A Japa Tale) deliver decent performances in their roles.
Domitilla (2023) is an attempt that thrives unhealthily on sensationalism to bring its idea to life. Inconsequential and unclear scenes make it difficult to follow the plot’s progression. Ultimately, an overly protracted denouement that gives it the air of a didactic high school play makes the picture pale in contrast to the 90s original.
Domitilla is showing in cinemas.
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- The masks were not giving at all.
- Nothing so special about that dress.
- Bad remakes just make people regard the classics less.
- ‘Ashawo no be work’ is an unfair judgment on characters who have been forced into the world as a result of circumstance.
- The action scenes are really not just it.
Saw this movie yesterday and I wished I had read this review beforehand. My expectations would have been normalized as against the high hopes I went in with.
I hope Zeb learns from positive sources. Quite below par, if I was asked.
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