BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
Movies themed around family get-togethers always have one thing in common: secrets. Think Dinner, think Kamara’s Tree, think Deep Fever. They begin with everyone being happy, glossed all over by primness and innocence. Then slowly, the facades begin to fade off and the scales begin to fall, and in time, we realize nothing is to be taken at face value.
It is no different in What Lies Within, a story about a family dinner. Fiona and Barry have finally gotten pregnant after a long time of trying, and are eager to share the good news with family and friends, so they invite them all for a dinner party. Every moment leading up to the dinner has occurrences no one bargained for, and when Brian, Barry’s younger brother who is also a wife-beater, doesn’t show up all evening, everyone begins to ask questions that reveal answers no one wants to hear.
At first glance, many things put you off. The camera focuses on a chameleon for minutes on end and would go on to show that chameleon the rest of the film, even when we all know it has no import on anything at all. The camera would also whirl mysteriously around Fiona, showing us plants and flowers repeatedly for no reason. And then you would have to wonder if Barry and Fiona have nasal impediments with the artificial way they both sound.
But slowly, What Lies Within begins to win your heart with its intriguing story. Ireti is Brian’s pregnant wife and a ready recipient of his generous blows. She has had enough and feels her life is threatened, so she calls her sister-in-law who tells her to hurry over to her house for safety. But little do we know that Brian is a beast who would follow her and beat up anyone that stands in his way. In self-defense, the women kill him and throw his body in the guest toilet in panic, right on time before the first guest, Ms Dimeji, arrives. The different flashbacks, the time displays, and creativity with which the entire story is unraveled make for interesting screen time. The way the scenes open into one another is ingenious, like a scene in which Brian’s phone is ringing and the camera stays fixated on the caller to introduce us to a flashback scene that begins with that same caller, among other striking instances.
The story is progressive, and the writer (Paul Utomi) ensures that the knots are properly tied. The radio show in the first scene leads up to breaking news on the television and a conversation about abuse and self-defense, the same type that has Brian locked inside a toilet. There is also humor, brought about by the pastor who is the fiancé to Esther, Brian’s sister, and their irritable mother who dislikes him. With them, you find many giggles.
The movie begins to take a nosedive, however, after dinner. The guests leave, but the pastor returns and it isn’t clear why. It turns out Derick and Ms Dimeji are no strangers, but we don’t see the relevance of their familiarity. Ms Dimeji acts like she knows about the murder, but that thought isn’t seen through. Brian rises from the dead a day later, or is revealed to never have been dead, but it is hard to believe he would survive after the deep puncture on his neck, the loss of blood, the stopped heartbeat and the length of time, unless the writer would like to sell this as a miracle. Fiona drugs her husband and mother-in-law, but it isn’t clear why. Fiona is also made into a psychopath all of a sudden, and it immediately loses the message of the film, the one of compassion and defense against abuse which we had so far bought. It straight away feels like the seasoned writer was switched for a greenhorn, and asked to rush up an ending and to make matters worse, there is an additional scene introduced by “360 something days later”. What is that? What happened to one year, or twelve months? Along with the immaturity of the intro comes a totally irrelevant scene that makes the already bad conclusion worse, and a movie that could have had you applauding with gusto has you rolling your eyes and perspiring in annoyance.
Still, What Lies Within shines with its good acting. Ebele Okaro embodies her evil mother-in-law role like she was born for it. Tope Tedela shows yet another impressive layer of his abilities as the pastor fiancé. Kiki Omeili and Okey Uzoeshi light up the entire place with top notch acting, and Vanessa Nzediegwu and Ken Erics play dysfunctional in a way that gives us chills.
Michelle Dede and Paul Utomi may not be fantastic as a love struck couple, but they sell their individual roles well.
Fine acting makes a good attempt to help this movie reach its highest potential, but it doesn’t, because no matter how engaging a story is, it is only as good as its end like a race at its finish line, and What Lies Within staggers to a meteoric fall as it finishes, a kind of Humpty-Dumpty fall that we are unable to put together again. Co-produced by Tope Tedela and directed by Vanessa Nzediegwu, What Lies Within turns out an average and disappointing film despite its strong message.