Barely thirty minutes into Ègún, I texted my editor: “I wonder who wrote it.” And I meant that in a good way. I had gone into the film completely blind, without any idea of the premise, tone, or actors involved. However, by the first act break, my interest was piqued. The characters, arranged like pieces on a chessboard, seemed ready to make intriguing moves. A few minutes later, while a bloody death played out on screen, two people in my audience sprang up and headed for the exit. Like me, they had probably missed the film’s promos and had not expected a horror film, of all things. And yet, Ègún is better described as a psychological thriller with elements of horror than a full-on scare-fest, a satirical black comedy that exists more on the wavelength of 2019’s Parasite than, say, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).
On an important day at the office, things take a turn for the diabolical when a package of assorted juju arrives with a note warning everyone who’s laid eyes on it that they will die if they try to leave the room. The characters are all terrified, naturally. The CEO (Uzor Arukwe) abandons his meeting with investors and stays trapped in the bullpen. Femi Jacobs’ character, an I-don’t-believe-in-juju type, thumps his chest and calls the whole thing a dud. A new employee (Lateef Adedimeji) is also forced to stay put even though it means missing the birth of his child. It’s all fun and games until one person tries to leave and suffers dire consequences. Then, the narrative kicks into high gear. The entity behind the package sends them a message: they all have to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets to one another if they ever hope to get out alive. By now, we are well into the second act, and the sequence where they all come clean about their past atrocities makes for some brutal and compelling drama.
At this point, Ègún sinks its teeth into its themes. While being every bit entertaining, it manages to articulate its thesis, which is that the corporate world is a jungle populated by individuals with animalistic desires. No, scratch that idea– at least animals only kill to eat. Here, beyond trying to save their skin, many actors in the corporate theatre seem entirely taken over by apathy and greed. Designer suits, fancy ties, and pencil skirts conceal the most heinous acts. Their world is a facade, a place where the expressions “cutthroat” or “dog-eat-dog” do not begin to suffice.
This idea is also echoed in the character played by Gideon Okeke (great casting, strong performance), a former employee who was unjustly drummed out of the company for the sudden disappearance of millions of naira under his care. This causes him to spiral into depression, unwilling to heed his wife’s advice to take up another job somewhere else. He suffers another tragedy when she and his daughter die in a car crash. This leads him to a total mental breakdown, complete with hallucinations and delusions. The screenwriter, Dare Olaitan, constructs his character as a parallel to Lateef Adedimeji’s, which makes for some proper tension between them, especially in a sequence in the 3rd act.
Like all psychological thrillers worth their categorization, Ègún comes with a fine enough twist that the filmmakers pull off without a hitch. As a black comedy, the film soars, courtesy of performances from Femi Jacobs (The House of Secrets) and Lateef Adedimeji (Ayinla). I didn’t laugh much, but my theatre was in stitches during certain scenes. As a satire, the film works, punching up at the all-too-common injustices observed in the corporate hierarchy.
Ègún reminded me of Ile Owo (2022), another film written by Dare Olaitan, particularly in its employment of a formalist-heavy style: a haunting score paired with dynamic cinematography. Lensed by Owen Olowu, the film is told in extreme close-ups, as well as perfectly-timed pans and sweeping shots, which only increase the audience’s unease. The visual style is further garnished by moody (and appropriately so) lighting and motivated camera movement. I found Ègún more focused narratively and thematically than Ile Owo. While I somewhat enjoyed the latter, I found it a triumph of style over substance. Ile Owo was like a town crier, hitting his gong for hours on end while walking the entire length of the community without giving any message from the king. Ègún fared better in that regard, a feat for first-time director Lillian Carmen Ike-Okoro.
However, for all it does right, the film’s second half is far less captivating than the first for several reasons. For one, the third act feels like the cinematic equivalent of shuffling one’s boots on hardwood floors: noisy and unnecessarily slow. At this point, the twist has already been revealed, so the characters have little development. Their fates are sealed, and we can see the ending coming a light-year away. At some point, you’re no longer hitting the nail on the head, just bludgeoning your themes into oblivion. The plot itself offers few surprises. I found myself waiting for the movie to end.
There is also some misguided attempt to turn Okeke’s character into some philosophical type like John Doe from Se7en (1995) or Arthur Fleck from Joker (2019), doing the work of a righteous vigilante, “cleansing the streets of filthy people,” as the film paints his actions as completely justified (“they deserved their fate”). In making him Judge, Jury, and Executioner in the narrative, without much of an antithesis to his thesis, the conflict loses steam. One of the reasons The Dark Knight (2008) is a fantastic thriller is that the Joker isn’t spewing his ideology unchallenged. The Batman is on the other end, tugging on the rope in their metaphorical tug-of-war, determined to prove him wrong. Even with several pushes, humanity (in this case, the people of Gotham) will not always fall into chaos, as evidenced by the famous ferry scene where the Joker’s social experiment fails woefully.
There is also an attempt to present the office and its madcap happenings as a microcosm of the country in order to offer some commentary to that effect; however, it comes too late and is too great a height for the film to attempt to climb without better tools. In his review of Parasite, Brian Tallerico writes, “The social commentary of Parasite leads to chaos, but it never feels like a didactic message movie.” At its climax, Ègún gets a little preachy, almost veering into morality play territory. Also, in his essay about why Parasite falls short of greatness, New Yorker critic Richard Brody writes, “[Parasite is] filmed so stringently and narrowly…that [it] weirdly undercuts the movie’s tone and design.” Conversely, Ègún could have used a tighter focus.
Finally, the fate of Okeke’s character is handwaved– a frustrating decision indeed. Clearly, his ending is supposed to be tragic, but it’s a surprise the film doesn’t bother to show how it all goes down. Given that the narrative has been skewed in his point of view the entire time, it’s nothing but a missed opportunity the size of Jupiter.
Following Dwindle, Ile Owo, and Obara’m, this project (my favorite so far) is the latest collaboration between FilmTrybe, headed by Kayode Kasum; Singularity Media, run by Dare Olaitan, and FilmOne Entertainment. For the most part, Ègún “aims for the specificity of the Nigerian condition.” It is also an entertaining mid-budget revenge film set mostly in one location, one of the better outings from the industry this year.
Egun premiered on November 17, 2023, in cinemas.
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- When it was over, I wanted to get another ticket to watch it again.
- I still haven’t found a rationale for the death of Omowumi Dada’s character. If you have, kindly let me know.
- Shoutout to Tomike Adeoye. Glad to see a fellow Maverick student doing great.