By the twentieth minute, Shadow Parties is already a bad film. At this point, it isn’t yet obvious that it is the narrative’s fault. Concessions are still made on its behalf. We blame the numerous amateur actors derailing the professionals. One trudges through and it becomes obvious that the first act, straight to the point as it tries to be, is a big mess, and that isn’t because of the film’s amateur actors.
By the hour mark, the viewer must be exhausted by the film’s sanctimony. The film has set out on an allegorical path, but has neither the scope nor the structure to execute it. Set in a fictional community with two warring factions, Iludun and Aje, the film, maybe unintentionally, prompts one towards a not too distant conflict between Modakeke and Ife. A credible impetus for a tight-knit narrative on senseless wars, Shadow Parties is unsatisfied with such controlled narrative. It pushes its scope recklessly, hinting at a multi-tribal, national, and international influence on the conflict in its fictional world. Beneath all the pomp and garishness lay the real shadow parties, an interesting concept which should have been the film’s introduction instead of its denouement. By the end of the movie, one cannot help but be mortified.
Two communities go to war over the legitimacy of heritage. That is the plot for Shadow Parties—everything else is chaos unraveling itself. Characters pile on characters— played by Yomi Blaq, Toyin Abraham, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, all running around headless—without any convincing backstory; all of them skeletons of a generic conflict narrative. Characters are introduced only to be murdered off to score unearned emotional points: it is a mosaic of introduce and kill. The same with convenient plot points unraveling to disbelief. There is little sense of artistic control or coherency. We go from one scene of chaos to another, all badly choreographed, all mediocrely shot. We abruptly transition from one quiet scene to a loud one and vice versa—this isn’t to establish any juxtaposition. There is no room for the plot to rest, for the viewer to take a breather; it is an onslaught of noise.
Shadow Parties fails to realize that the success of a material on a sentimental affair as war doesn’t come from emotions but from strong characters—consider Adrien Brody from The Pianist or Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour. There is a constant procedure of wringing out emotions where there are none or where the emotion is insufficient. Shadow Parties proceeds to commit the great crime of constantly diluting the war and “emotional” scenes with humour, championed by Afeez Oyetoro. And worse, there are scenes where war and humour cohabit.
The film has no idea what language it wishes to speak, perhaps playing a balancing act for a larger market. When characters speak English, it is always poetic to a fault with a bogus, larger than life accent meant for the theatre stage; the Yoruba seems more original, more organic, the obvious but abandoned language choice, the better alternative to the linguistic Frankenstein this film has become.
As the film nears two hours, the sound becomes occasionally distant as the plot. A couple of whites are thrown in to make it look gaudy and important. White savior comes into the local fray with a literal “oh we must find a way to end this war”, it is almost laughable. Who is this white man with a death wish? What are his motivations beyond a savior complex? By 1 hour plus, the film is introducing a new concept, the shadow parties, a nefarious group of elites profiting from local conflicts. An absolutely interesting concept that could have been more thoroughly pursued. But the film wanted embellishments over plot, chaos over calm, and above all, it champions the shadow of plot.
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- Owuteru (Yemi Blaq) could have been written better as a tragic figure.
- Every time we see a character introduced, we are sure to see them dead soon enough.
- It is as though the producers couldn’t afford an A-lister for more than twenty minutes of screen time so they got numerous A-list actors for pockets of 10-15 minutes’ performances to create a mish-mash of star power.
- Educated princess forming bad girl got Stockholm syndrome. Characters who have no connections whatsoever suddenly turn up in new scenes with familiarity.
Shadow Parties is streaming on Netflix.