”Oga John” is a searing, visually stunning short film about suicide and mental health

In a dimly lit grocery store, football commentary in pidgin softly blares from a radio. A weary-looking woman leaves the store with the items she has bought, and the titular Oga John and store owner is lost in the commentary but keeps a mildly watchful eye around. As a short film on mental health condensed in ten minutes, the triumph of Oga John is in the slices of silence and the exquisite wordless pauses. Picture aside, we see this element where the suicidal Alero comes to the store to buy rat poison.

Alero is played by Knock Out Blessing star Ade Laoye, who maintains a strained silence as she waits for Oga John to package the deadly product. Oga John is deceptively sketetal; the story progresses without anything happening until Alero is in the confines of her car and breaks down in tears. She listens to her mum’s voice message on her phone, pleading that they resolve what’s bothering her. We aren’t given context though, but it seems dire. Then she leaves a farewell note on social media: ”I’m so sorry…I have to go.”

This detail in the film portrays our cultural obsession with social media, even at the despairing point of suicide, and has become a digital graveyard where people leave vestiges of their existence. Alero, in that moment, has her emotions spilling in the car against the backdrop of night. Camera angles shift from her reflection in mirror and the embrace of her new, deadly nihilism. How Oga John manages to be so affecting with minimal dialogue should be credited to writer Oje Ojeaga. Directed by Tolu Ajayi and produced by Bolanle Akintomide, the film is a Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative property, the NGO in the forefront of raising awareness on mental health and the prevention of suicide.

The film’s ending wounds back to the Oga John’s grocery store, still thrumming with football commentary and the dullness from a fluorescent light. But, most importantly, it’s become a beacon of hope.

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