Movie review: Rita Dominic and Femi Jacobs reunite, but cannot save The Guest

by Wilfred Okiche

The makers of The Guest, the sexy romantic thriller directed by Christian Olayinka, must have figured that Nollywood was due for some sizzle; something mysterious and exciting to shake the entire industry out of its comedy induced stupor and deliver some sick shocks at the same time.

At this point, it is hard to envisage what exactly the film’s makers had in mind when they set about creating The Guest but the final cut is after all said and done, nothing to write home about.

Sure there is the potentially exciting turn by award winning screen diva Rita Dominic as the titular character straight from hell that is almost single-handedly responsible for all of the hype the film has received so far. Rita Dominic is indeed one of the most interesting movie stars working today and when she finds a role that is worthy of her talent, as she did in 2013’s The Meeting and last year in the historical epic ’76, she becomes a combustible presence on screen, one that is eminently watchable.

It is not hard to see how Dominic must have been attracted to The Guest. She must have relished the chance to play against type in a role that dials up the histrionics to the loudest of decibels. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned has always made for great characterisation and Dominic’s Nikki is only the latest in a line of cinematic femme fatales that include Glenn Close’s iconic Alexandra Forrest from Fatal Attraction and Rosamund Pike’s beloved sociopath Amy Dunne from Gone Girl.

That is on the one hand. On the other, it would seem silly, preposterous even, to compare Dominic’s Nikki with these formidable villains who have already arrived at classic status as the character as written by Foluke Olaniyi has neither the calculative cunning of Amy Dunne nor the vengeful brilliance of Close’s Alex Forrest.

Nikki is a washed up deportee from the United Kingdom with a back story that the film does not bother to delve into properly. On arriving Lagos, she is taken in by her college friend, Lola (Somkele Idhalama), a painfully naïve (Read: stupid) small business owner whose marriage to her dashing hubby Billie (Femi Jacobs) is beginning to show cracks.

Everyone and their mother knows that you do not invite your utterly ravishing, perfect skinned friend from University who happens to have shared some history with your husband in the past to move in to your home. But Lola is probably the only Nigerian girl who did not receive this particular nugget from mama. Suffice to say that she suffers for it. Dearly. Lola ventures out of town on a business trip and Nikki seizes the opportunity to make her move, thus setting off a terrible chain of events that only ends in sorrow, tears and blood.

From the moment Rita Dominic enters the picture, she seizes control of the film and while she makes some effort, especially in the first half, adopting a low guttural growl, wearing impossibly skimpy clothing, cursing like a sailor and trying out some sexy scenes, her good intentions cannot cover up the films second half where everything comes crashing down hopelessly.

It feels at some point that both halves are joined from separate films as the director squanders all of the good will earned by his likeable actors ab initio on a final act that is stagey, goes on forever and ends with a fizzle. The overstretched end alone discredits everything that has come before and even Rita Dominic falls flat on her face trying too hard to extend an uninspiring farce. It is a messy outing that has to be seen to be appreciated. It does Ms Dominic nor Mr Jacobs no service at all.

Sound is an issue for the entire running time as it plays like the voices were dubbed atop the actors’ performances in some cases and then tapers off to undecipherable levels in others. The film is bathed in a dark glow that is probably chosen to accentuate the sombre mood but casts a dark shadow on the film.

The acting is uneven as the supporting players seem to have come into the film unrehearsed. Chika Chukwu who was part of the ensemble in The Meeting is overly dramatic and delivers a performance that is incongruous with what real people in her situation should be doing.

Somkele Idhalama who was so effective and alive in last year’s 93 Days is a shadow of that performance here as she appears lifeless and uninterested in whatever is happening. Only the recently buffed up Femi Jacobs shows up for work here and keeps his wits intact while others lose theirs and the body count begins to pile up.

There is no beating around the bush here. The editing on the film is practically non-existent. The Guest is far from a decent effort. It suffers from tonal shifts so abrupt and manages to make a mess out of the characterization, the one element that could have salvaged it. There’s no saving this one from itself.

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