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“Dead of Night” Review: Chiemeka Osuagwu’s Horror Feature Serves Little Impactful Scares

“Dead of Night” Review: Chiemeka Osuagwu’s Horror Feature Serves Little Impactful Scares

Dead of Night - Showmax - Review - Afrocritik

Osuagwu piles on one heavy serving of a body count in Dead of Night, sufficiently answering which side of the horror-thriller divide the film falls into. But it somehow falls short on atmospherics.

By Victory Hayzard Solum

Themes of greed, guilt, and hubris get into a tangle with retribution for past sins in the 2024 Showmax Original horror feature written and directed by Chiemeka Osuagwu, Dead of Night.

Favour Etim is Chinaza, the despondent ward of an abusive alcoholic who must burglarise long-vacant apartments to save up money to flee her current predicament. Nene Aliemeke plays Ihuoma, a happy-go-lucky girl whose reason for stealing might simply be because it is possible. Between them is the trauma of losing Chinaza’s cousin, Nefe (Israel Kolawole), on the job about a year prior. However, when Chinaza’s Uncle Goddy, played by Simi Hassan, steals and squanders all her savings on liquor, she must embark on one last job. But we already know, from other similarly themed movies, that this is bound to lead nowhere pleasant.

People sometimes disappear in this village. We are clued in on this early with Nefe’s vanishing. But whatever is afoot, it is decidedly human. We see this at first when a couple of seeming ritualists tackle an escapee in the opening sequence. Sometime later, someone takes a peeing detour through the forest and gets a wooden two-by-two across the face for his troubles. This gets us abreast with the dangers that abound, but it also detracts from any real mystery surrounding the happenings, taking a few shades off what could have possibly been great foreshadowing. Still, at this point, one might be inclined to stick around in the hopes of some surprise. And there are quite a few of them.

Dead of Night - Showmax - Review - Afrocritik
Dead of Night

For one, Chinaza and Ihuoma do not seem to have any actual qualms about bringing yet another child on a job that left them staring at the bloodstained shoe of their former child partner just a year ago. Sure, Chinaza voices some complaints, but they are too little too late into the event, and not as vehement as one would expect. Onyinye, the new child in question, (played by Diana Egwuatu), is one child actor who not only succeeds in not mumbling her lines, but also infuses actual personality into her character. Said character is equipped with the skills and wiles of Jack Dawkins, Charles Dickens’s Artful Dodger from the book, Oliver Twist, that it is hard to not break into a smile whenever she appears on screen. But what that does is imbue the characters with a certain street-smart foolhardiness, if you will, that it is difficult seeing how they could be seriously imperilled on their endeavour, all notions of the dangers considered.

Coming along for the ride, however involuntarily, is Rufus, as played by Chuks Joseph (Dark October, The Origin: Madam Koi-Koi) who seems to be fashioning a career for himself somewhat in the mould of one of Hollywood’s most killable stars, Sean Bean. This time, Joseph is a regular Joe – perhaps the village hottie – who prances around like an action star, finding out too late that he is in the wrong film genre.

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Osuagwu piles on one heavy serving of body counts in Dead of Night, sufficiently answering which side of the horror-thriller divide the film falls into. Horror, if I wasn’t being clear enough. And yet, it somehow falls short on atmospherics. The camera has an unbreakable covenant with realism that there is almost no way to infuse the sort of subjectivity required to induce chills. One chase sequence through the forest cannot be bothered to simulate the natural dread that comes with being in the woods so late at night, leaving the heavy lifting to human threats. Dead of Night is at its scariest in foreboding daylight scenes, and there just simply are not enough of those.

What we have here is a band of people who, in the bid to appease the spirit of Death they summoned to rid their community of social miscreants, must now sacrifice seven people yearly to stave off a total annihilation. Except until we are told this story in an ill-advised flashback two full acts into the story, there is not one mention of these deaths and disappearances that have been ongoing for years. But for a few glimpses of foul play here and there, one might be tempted to believe Nefe alone has disappeared by all accounts. While this revelation does increase the stakes, it comes far too late for us to care or feel worried about. We know of no villagers worth saving at all. We know of no other villagers, period.

It is also of great concern that no character ever seems to undergo a proper transformation in the ways that matter. Chinaza bears the weight of some serious emotional burdens throughout Dead of Night, and while she does learn to make sacrifices for those closest to her, it is a lesson she imbibes very early in the film, with no impact whatsoever from the ongoing journey. We never get the sense that Ihuoma and Onyiye come to any new understanding about life or morality. While the last shots of the film sees them leaving the village, there is no reason to believe they will not go on being the thieving duo they have been in their home community. What then has been the purpose of the entire journey?

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Frank Donga (The Wedding Party, Ololade) has some interesting casting as Doctor Clems, a ordinary enough looking man with an unbending iron will. This succeeds in keeping things offbeat in a story which scores high on strangeness, despite itself. If his portrayal gives you reasons to pause, it is not any better or worse than what’s presented elsewhere in Dead of Night. Eric Obinna rounds up the cast as a world-wearied Dibia grappling with guilt over the sort of world he has created. But the fact that we literally see him kill someone minutes before he voices his reservations, with no impetus whatsoever, makes this a hard pill to swallow.

Executive Produced by Femi D. Ogunsanwo and photographed by Lanre “Big L” Oliyide, Dead of Night is a tale of guilt and retribution borne on by weighty and heartrending performances. But in its overreach for cosmic relevance, it collapses on itself for lack of proper grounding, and must shuffle along on wobbly spindly legs. Does that make it a freakish monster of some Frankensteinian sort? Well, it lives. And for this injustice, we have the director to blame.

Rating: 2.5/5

(Dead of Night is currently streaming on Showmax)

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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