BY ANDREW OKE
Memory is such a tricky thing. I loved Nneka the Pretty Serpent when I first saw it many years ago. On a recent viewing, the film was still very enjoyable but has lost some of the lustre of initial contact. Perhaps it’s due to time lapse, or perhaps it’s was just never really great…who knows?
The fight for a man’s soul between the woman that loves him and the woman that wants to destroy him; a villain who is a pretty serpent that lives underwater with mermaids and has the ability to transform herself into a house cat; and a deus ex machina ending indicative of films of its time. This is Nneka the Pretty Serpent.
Nneka (Ndidi Obi) is a young woman who dates rich, unavailable men for their money or for their souls. I’m not quite sure. She does this using her evil powers that she gets from her “spirit husband” or from her mermaid queen. I’m not quite sure. She meets Tony (Okechukwu Ogunjiofor), a successful banker who is engaged to be married to the love of his life, Ify (Rita Nzelu) at a party and immediately decides that he is going to be her next victim. She seduces and bewitches him using her many unspecified abilities, causing him to leave his fiancée and abandon his family and all forms of rational thought. Ify and Tony’s childhood friends, led by Emeka (Kanayo O. Kanayo), try to open Tony’s eyes to Nneka’s evil ways, but Nneka retaliates by killing them one by one, except for fiancée and Emeka, even though they are her biggest threats and have no real power to stop her. Maybe it’s because they pray a lot or something. I’m not quite sure.
Nneka the Pretty Serpent is a film bereft of rules. Anything can happen and most things do not need to be explained, neither do they have to make a lick of sense, as can be seen in the film’s biologically incorrect title. You have a villain with no clear motivations for her actions. She is an evil person who does evil things, because she is evil. Ndidi Obi does a great job in the titular role of Nneka, but the character is lacking greatly in layers and any form of complexity. Every other character in the film is beautifully painted and complicated by their humanity, but Nneka seems rushed and not well thought through. Nneka poses a great threat to the “good guys”, but she’s a character so overly simplistic that I honestly do not care.
Nneka is a paper thin, one note character that has no clear goals or reasons for doing whatever it is that she does. One moment it seems like she bewitches Tony for his money, then another moment it seems like she’s doing it to submit his soul to her mermaid queen. Then when she finally marries Tony and controls all his money, why doesn’t she then give his soul to her mermaid queen? After all, her mission is complete; she has broken him down completely and at this point he’s jobless, penniless and is more of a nuisance to her than anything else. Did Nneka just forget or did film’s makers just overlook it?
The film’s heroes, Emeka and Ify, can’t do much to defeat Nneka other than talking to Tony, because of Nneka’s supernatural serpent mermaid pussycat powers. In the film’s third act, they go to the film’s true hero to save the day: Mr. Nameless Pastor Man. I understand that having the day saved by the “unnamed third act pastor” was commonplace in early Nollywood films, but that does not make it any less of a cop-out ending.
This film, like most films, is flawed. Actually it’s more flawed than most, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of things great about it. The acting performances are amazing and very believable and for reasons that I can’t quite explain and honestly don’t understand, the film is actually enjoyable. Maybe it’s entertaining because of how silly it is or maybe it’s because I’m a Nigerian and we love seeing “witchcraft” on screen. One thing is for sure; Nneka the Pretty Serpent is nowhere near as good as I remember.
Ndidi Obi – Nneka
Okechukwu Ogunjiofor – Tony
Rita Nzelu – Ify
Kanayo O. Kanayo – Emeka
Joe Dudun – Story & Screenplay
Zeb Ejiro – Story