It would be nice to have only great things to report about What Lies Within, an ensemble thriller with some subversive elements. The film is co-produced by Tope Tedela, one of the nicest guys in the business and directed by Vanessa Nzediegwu. High profile female directors are not exactly common place but this year has seen an improvement in numbers, with films helmed by Omoni Oboli, Bunmi Ajakaiye and Tope Oshin punching forth and making some kinds of impression.
Apart from their behind-the-scenes duties, Tedela and Nzediegwu- alongside Paul Utomi who not only joins them in the producers’ seat but pens the screenplay- also appear onscreen. Utomi is Barry, husband to a beautiful wife, Fiona (Michelle Dede) who does her gardening on weekday mornings and takes pills to help her sleep at night. Something is immediately off with Fiona and Barry’s chemistry. Both actors who play them do not quite appear settled in their roles and make an awkward connection that is worsened by the amplified sounds that appear dubbed separately and tacked on top of their lip movements.
In the opening credits, the camera lingers on a chameleon, signifying that some shady stuff is about to go down. The director does a good job trying to set up the mood for something dark. The house where most off the action takes place is large yet sterile. Not entirely imposing, yet hints of foreboding. The inhabitants, especially Fiona, glide through like persons on edge. She seems uncomfortable in her own skin, or home. The story has a non-linear narrative, told in flashbacks and recollections that help to heighten the suspense which is an integral element of the film.
Fiona is fixing up for a family dinner later in the day. On the radio, OAP Yaw is describing the trending topic of a woman who murders an abusive husband. This tidbit isn’t forgotten as it comes up again when the family sits down after dinner. It also parallels the bizarre stuff that has gone down earlier in the day. The screenplay, does an admirable job in tracking the sequence of events and placing them at strategic places to achieve an atmosphere of apprehension.
Fiona gets a distress call from her sister in law, Ireti (Vanessa Nzediegwu) who has been a long suffering victim of abuse at the hands of her husband Brian (an imposing Ken Erics) and invites her to seek refuge in her home. Little do both ladies know that trouble is going to find them at the very place they feel safest.
Barry’s mama (Ebele Okaro-Onyiuke) is one of the early callers and it is immediately clear from her disapproving gaze that evil mother-in-law cliché has worked its way into the proceedings. Okaro makes it fun, dishing out her lines with appropriate amounts of venom.
All the guests arrive, except Brian, and while they are all worried, no one except mama is genuinely distressed. The guests begin to interact with each other, secrets are spilled, some characters are revealed to be pivotal, most extraneous. Plenty of talk. Not one convincing performance among the roomful of actors. Ok maybe except for Tope Tedela who plays Gboyega, a mousy pastor/optometrist who is engaged to mama’s daughter, Esther (Odenike Odeleye). Of course mama treats him like dirt. Even at that, his role heads nowhere fast.
What Lies Within gets ridiculous as it approaches its end. Characters do things that do not make much sense. Gboyega returns to pick something up and the screenplay cannot quite figure out what to do with him, besides raising suspicious thoughts. Ditto Miss Dimeji (Kiki Omeili) and Derrick (Okey Uzoeshi) whose attraction does nothing for the story.
It is all a bit of a muddle but no one can say the team doesn’t try for something different.