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“A Green Fever” Review: Taiwo Egunjobi’s Historical Suspense Thriller is Incoherent and Corny, Yet Commendable

“A Green Fever” Review: Taiwo Egunjobi’s Historical Suspense Thriller is Incoherent and Corny, Yet Commendable

‘A Green Fever’ - review - Afrocritik

The thing with A Green Fever is that by the time the film reaches the third act, you feel like you have wandered around and found yourself in the plot of a good old Macmillan Pacesetter.

By Victory Hayzard Solum 

One of the most paradoxical things about life is how quickly one’s fortunes can change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Sometimes, as a result of painstaking hard work, sometimes as a result of mere happenstance. The happenstance of a child yielding to her illness in the middle of a road trip with no hospitals in sight, for instance.

The year is sometime in the era of Nigeria’s military dictatorships in the ’80s. Kunmi Braithwaite, played by Temilolu Fosudo (The Griot, Harmony of Dreams), finds himself stranded and desperate for help when his daughter, Ireti, played by the ever-amazing Darasimi Nadi (Obara’M, On The Edge), loses consciousness to her illness of green fever. Kunmi turns frantically to the unfriendly environs of a house in the middle of nowhere, where Matilda, played by Okezie Precious Ruby (Glamour Girls, Far From Home), takes pity on them and lets them in. But things take a turn for the worst upon the sudden arrival of Matilda’s ruthless and paranoid military lover and sponsor, Colonel Bashiru, played by William Benson (The Herbert Macaulay Affair, Obara’M), in Taiwo Egnujobi’s suspense thriller, A Green Fever.

This is Egunjobi’s third feature, after his festival-touring films, In Ibadan, and All Na Vibes. A Green Fever was itself well received when it premiered at AFRIFF last November, and it comes to us courtesy of Nemsia Films and Sable Productions, from a screenplay by Egunjobi’s constant collaborator, Isaac Ayodeji (In Ibadan, All Na Vibes).

The central idea of the film is this: Kunmi and his daughter arrive on the eve of a planned coup d’etat, and the Colonel, who is wary of all strangers, believes them to be spies. To this end, he asks over and over again just who Kunmi really is, as if the constant badgering could shift the answer from what has been restated. But don’t mistake the Colonel for a simpleton. Sometimes his questions are over a meal, with the prospect of friendship or business partnership. Sometimes they’re straight-faced. And other times, he could be pummeling someone to death with the back end of his gun. Suffice it to say that the menace of being in his presence never really lets up.

Benson manages this all, of course, with the flair of the routine. There is nothing flamboyant about his approach to the Colonel. This is simply an army officer, and it is just another day in his life; dealing with mild disturbances while navigating through the rough terrain of his profession. There is no especial ill-will to his insults. When he calls someone a cow, for instance, he means it as a matter of fact — a mundane fact; one that’s not more important than any other; but a fact. It is this casual, matter-of-factness, that makes him the best thing about A Green Fever. There is no fanfare to be made about that. It is simply what it is.

A Green Fever - William Benson- Afrocritik

Next on the list of commendables would be the cinematography. It is not often in Nollywood that one gets a movie that aims to look good. And it is not for the sake of appearing flashy and glamourous — there is nothing of that sort in this stripped-down ‘80s Nigerian aesthetic. The framing, the lighting, the shot composition; everything combines to give this movie a crisp look that is both lived-in and exotic. And rightly so for a historical picture that doesn’t exactly announce itself. Watch out for the set design, too. There might be something to all those tortoise motifs.

The thing with A Green Fever is that by the time the film reaches the third act, you feel like you have wandered around and found yourself in the plot of a good old Macmillan Pacesetter. It is thrilling in the sense that it imagines some high-level intrigue in the course of the ordinary Nigerian life. And at the heart of all those seeming complications is a simple story. But the film does not exactly nail every objective that it set out to achieve.

For a lead character and our conduit into this world of shadows, Fosudo is not the most convincing of actors. Perhaps in the bid to ensure that A Green Fever always has an exacting picture that may be picked up at any point for continuity’s sake, the filmmakers have not allowed for a lot of fluid mobility in the actors’ movements. So, there is a lot of standing and talking before moving to point B, for more standing and talking. Still, perhaps this could have been managed well if Fosudo did not see the need to sound like he was at a recital. All the stammering and stuttering regardless, Fosudo cannot sell terror to save his life. Sure, he acts it. But one can’t get past the fact that he’s acting it, and it’s a wonder how anybody buys it in the movie. Some of his best work here is done with his mouth shut. And there are not many instances of that.

A Green Fever - Temilolu Fosudo - Afrocritik

I want to forgive Okezie for any misses in the film for the simple fact of having performed an in-universe track attributed to her character herself. All criticisms from Mister Know-it-all Braitwaithe and Colonel Foul-Mouth, regardless, we the real-life watchers are seeing some inspired Nollywood production here. Her character, Matilda, is set up as this weepy not-too-bright girl who must take tips on how to live her life from whichever man happens to be in the room at the moment. Not the most flattering of roles, and the turnaround for her character does not really feel like a turnaround; it comes yet again at the behest of a man. Still, Okezie makes the most of what she’s handed. She weeps and whines again, and we groan in mild irritation.

A Green Fever - Okezie Precious Ruby - Afrocritik

Despite the confident pace at which the plot travels in A Green Fever, there is some scatterbrainedness to the storytelling underneath, conclusions that never come through, as well as leaps that are unjustified.

There is a subplot about a cash delivery to a certain JRB. That story exists merely to give characters something to grumble about on the phone, as well as a reason for others to come crashing the party. But of course, these, too, lead nowhere brilliant.

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Shoot the man next to a Colonel of the Nigerian Army, and this well-trained armed individual, with every reason in the world to gun you down, might just stand there waiting for you to right yourself and take aim at him — you, a clerk-looking baby-faced bloody civilian.

The dramatic tension in the film turns upon the Colonel’s arrival at the house. Somehow, a particular someone has figured out that he will be arriving on this particular day, bringing suitcases filled with some Muritala Mohammeds with him. However, for the mistress of the house, and therefore for us, this arrival is totally unexpected. Must we blame this on Matilda’s slowness too? Perhaps this level of coherence is too much to ask from a movie where a guard stops someone from moving in a general direction, asks why they are headed that way, hears that they are lost, asks them to get lost, and they continue in the exact direction. Except this time, all is right with the world.

There is the question of why Ireti is in the film or what value she adds to the story rather than as a prop to get the story started. This is, more so, the crime of underutilising the superb acting talent that is Darasimi Nadi. There are a million and one things she could have been doing that would have been perfect in character, had the film seen fit to make more chess moves than the more obvious ones. The full extent of the subterfuge is never realised on account of this. Or perhaps it was never really appreciated.

Perhaps the filmmakers needed to figure their story out and tighten it up for a more rounded finish. Perhaps there was too much of the violin screeches on the soundtrack – this film is not the psychologically gruelling experience it pretends to be. The dialogue was definitely on the nose a lot of times, with a drive for poignancy that ends up being corny, via thinly-veiled comments on the Nigerian state. Still, A Green Fever is one of those films one could point to and say Nollywood would be all the better if the mainstream attempted more things in that fashion, with dedicated production values, and a shot at narrative excellence. But don’t take my word for it. It might be the fever talking.

Rating: 3/5

(A Green Fever is currently streaming on Prime Video)

Victory Hayzard Solum is a freelance writer with an irrepressible passion for the cinematic arts. Here he explores the sights, sounds, and magic of the shadow-making medium and their enrichment of the human experience. A longstanding ghostwriter, he may have authored the last bestselling novel you read.

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