Occultic Battle (MacCollins Chidebe, 2005)
The best thing about pretty much any Nollywood film that runs across your path is the trailers, which are usually for films that look even more ridiculous than the one you laid out five bucks for from your favorite Nollywood bootleg retailer on the web. Nollywood trailers make you realize why trailers exist in the first place—to get you to watch movies you would have passed up with extreme prejudice otherwise. In the case of Occultic Battle, I’m not sure it’s possible for any of the movies covered in the six minutes of trailers that precede this monstrosity to be any cheesier than it is itself.
I’m not sure I even know where to begin trying to describe this mess, but if you’re familiar with Nollywood, the central concept will be familiar—the old religion, which in this case looks a whole lot like voodoo (this concept is reinforced strongly by a faux-Caribbean soundtrack that never fails to be upbeat when the material calls for something far darker), is meddling with the lives of the locals, and it’s up to the mavericks who follow this not-really-accepted-yet religion called Christianity to set things right. In this case, the bad guys take the form of a bokor (or what would be called a bokor were this set in Haiti) and his coven, all of whom are wealthy and powerful, leading to all sorts of opportunities for Chidebe to get into how corrupt his country’s economy is. (From what I have read, much of this probably hits pretty close to home for the majority of Nigerians; wealth distribution in Nigeria runs along the same ratios as that in America, but there is not nearly as much money to go around, so the rich are poorer, and the poor are way poorer.) The ultimate goal of all these games, both spiritual and financial, is the soul of one Anikwe (Bigger Boys‘ Kanayo O. Kanayo), the son of one of the bokor’s inner circle.
Americans are getting to the point where we expect our movies, especially the big pictures released by the Hollywood machine every summer, to either be a sequel or spawn a sequel. This has been Nollywood’s business model since day one; if you check Kanayo’s resume at IMDB, for example, as of this writing there are 145 acting entries; of those, only twenty are not pieces of series. (I should revise that to say only twenty are not obvious pieces of series; it’s possible he only acted in the first film in a series, or that Nollywood, as it almost never does, gave a sequel a title other than [name of the first movie] 2.) Thus, when you go into a Nollywood movie, you kind of have to expect that it’s going to end more like a cliffhanger in an old TV serial than like the actual end of a movie. I will give Occultic Battle one point in its favor; while it is obvious from the end of the film that there is a sequel in the works, it is the rare Nollywood film I have ever seen in that it could have stood without that sequel, though the audience would likely have not accepted Occultic Battle‘s rather downbeat ending. If God didn’t exist…, etc. But Occultic Battle is cheesy even for Nollywood. Maybe it’s just the stripe of stuff I am used to watching from the Nollywood factory, but the cheese is easier to handle when you’re dealing with monsters made out of garden hoses and duct tape. You expect bad horror movies to be cheesy. Financial thrillers? Not so much. Not that the scenes with the coven don’t put the movie in at least the same zip code as Nollywood’s usual supernatural horror fare, but it seemed to me that Chidebe was going for something more here, and he failed quite badly. Still, it’s not nearly as bad as its sequel, which…
(stay tuned for the next exciting episode of Your Favorite Goat Reviews the Occultic Battle Series, coming tomorrow!) *
An abbreviated version of the film (this runs 1:11, my copy 1:46) is watchable free on irokotv.com, but cannot be embedded. (You can watch the entire series free there.)