Owo Eje: What Nollywood mystery films can learn

Under the spotlight are Tiger (Gbemisola Faleti), a love rival; Joseph (Dosu Fatomilola), a close friend who happens to have spent his final moments with him; Olowojeunjeje (Kola Oyewo), a local chief who the deceased has been blackmailing; Baba Wale (Kareem Adepoju), a father-like figure to the deceased, and Lana (Lapade Babatunde), a bus driver who has just arrived town while evading arrest for murder in Lagos.

The job of figuring out the real killer falls to Akin Olusina (Lanre Balogun), a private detective Sule’s lover, Bisi (Ganiyat Ogundele), hires because she’s dissatisfied with how the police are handling the investigation.

Owó Ẹ̀jẹ̀, adapted from Kola Akinlade‘s 1976 novel of the same title, is one of Nollywood’s most unforgettable whodunits, exploring the naked complexities of human nature.

Detective Olusina shares DNA with Hercule Poirot, the fictional Belgian detective created by British writer, Agatha Christie. Though he doesn’t dress as elegantly or move with a chip on his shoulder as his foreign counterpart (and possible influence), Olusina sports the same conspicuous moustache and is just as dedicated to justice; in this case, finding Sule’s killer.

The defining attraction of a good mystery film is the twists that happen while the audience navigates a minefield of new developments and misdirections before a killer is finally exposed.

The crime thriller, directed by Yemi Amodu, does well stringing the audience along, keeping them in the dark about who wanted Sule dead enough to act on it. With the detective leaving no stone unturned unravelling the mystery, the motives of the suspects and the opportunities they had to commit the crime stimulate compelling drama and characters that command attention. But Owó Ẹ̀jẹ̀ isn’t just about a dead farmer.

In the film’s undercurrent lies tribal tensions, as the local population exhibits sociocultural aggression against the Ebira settlers in the community. It’s an extra complexity to the storytelling that makes the characters feel like real people as the film peels back the layers that shed light on Sule’s murder and the conditions that enabled it.

The investigation of his death involves some methodical police work as Olusina and other police detectives diligently, and sometimes aggressively, question suspects in conversations that feel polished and effective in moving the story forward. Some of the discoveries that lead to the unravelling of the real killer feel heavy-handed and convenient for the plot, but the execution of the final reveal and the intricacies of the murder ooze refinement that sustains interest.

Balogun delivers a measured performance to make Olusina an endearing character to root for. The coterie of other competent actors that surrounds him in the film, including Babatunde Agoro (Sola Fosudo), Sergeant Oriowo (Lere Paimo), and Tunde Atopinpin (Taiwo Adeyemi), also pull their weight to deliver an arresting story.

Even if you see the final twist of who the real killer is coming — and that’s a big if — all the pieces are not properly lined up until Owó Ẹ̀jẹ̀ is ready to play all its cards. That’s all you can ever really ask of a good mystery film — a compelling hook, perfect red herrings, a detective who can hold your attention, and a killer that makes you work for the final cathartic twist.

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