Originally uploaded by NollywoodForever
Empty Coffin ~ 2009
Story – Nkechi Emeodi, Terry Emeka Emeodi
Screenplay – Nkechi Emeodi
Director – Emeka Hill Umeasor
Ufuoma Ejenobor – Lilian
Emeka Ike – Okwudili
Zack Orji – Mr Stevens
Vincent Opurum – Samuel
Princewill Walter – Shasha
Queen Blessing Ebigiason – Elizabeth
Fred Peters – Inspector Akpan
Nkechi Emeodi – Ekaete
Peace Ameh – Model
My Rating – 78%
Lilian has been recently been widowed. Her husband committed suicide because he could not face the debt that he had accrued. Her family too are in debt and so arrange for her to marry a Mr Stevens, a rich widower who has promised to expunge their debts.
She arrives at his home only to realise that her new husband is still pining over his dead wife. He has even kept time still from the moment that she died by removing the batteries in all the clocks in the house.
Trapped in a loveless and uncommunicative marriage Lilian strikes up a friendship with a servant Okwudili. They bond over a love and appreciation for art. Together they discover a secret that Mr Steven’s is hiding, a secret more deadly that they could have ever imagined.
The movie starts with credits rolling, white writing on a black background. It is a dramatic and impressive start. We hear soft piano music with some striking chords playing and over it we hear Lilian narrating the story of her husband’s death. We learn that she caved into the pressure to remarry to save her family from the humiliation of financial ruin. In her monologue she says,
“I was sent to join this man Mr Steven’s at his home somewhere far. I knew that he had lost his wife… This was all I knew. I didn’t even have a picture.”
Halfway through the monologue we see Lilian in a car being driven to meet her new husband. The driver dumps her outside the gate of the house. The driver has been told to drop her off at a certain spot and not go any further. This tells us that there is something very odd about this Steven’s fellow.
Stevens is very stiff in his interaction with his new wife. He is uncommunicative and replies to her questions in the shortest way possible. The first strong inkling that something is really wrong is when he tells her about the room at the top of the house that is always locked and that no one can enter. She is his wife but he will not give any explanation as to why this is.
The beauty in Ufoma’s performance were the small subtleties like the raise of an eyebrow that can be so easily missed with the blink of an eye. The use of the piano soundtrack ties in nicely with Mr Stevens’s passion for the piano. The music is used effectively to heighten tension and emotion
Lilian writes in her diary,
“I have everything at my beck and call but I want more… I am a woman I want to love and be loved.”
Lilian releases her feelings with pen and paper while Stevens does the same through music meanwhile they live in virtual silence. Lilian is so unhappy that she contemplates running away.
I felt that there wasn’t always clear direction in Ufoma’s performance. As much as I love her and think that she is an excellent actress, at times she was overdoing the come hither-ness a little. There is a scene where Okwudili and Lilian were painting together and there was way too much going on with the lip biting and gyrating in the seat. It was not in line with Lillian’s character as in scenes afterward she is more subtle and coy, so there was a feeling of inconsistency with her character’s behaviour. I had the feeling that perhaps the director had told her she wasn’t being sexy enough and to turn it up a notch.
I found the coy subtleness she displayed at times to be far sexier than the gyrating and Ini-isms. One does not need to start wriggling around like an uncontrollable nympho for the viewer to get the point that you are attracted to a guy. I thought that it was meant to be a sweet romantic love about two people falling in love with art as the backdrop, but all the posturing they had her doing cheapened the story. I say – either it is a sweet and romantic story or it’s a lust driven tale of passion. Choose one. You of course can have both, with one turning into the other, but at this point they hadn’t even kissed yet so it didn’t fit.
Zack Orji plays the silent brooder come savage attacker excellently. We see his anger bubbling beneath the surface to the point where at the end of part 1 he launches a violent attack on Lilian.
I liked this role for Emeka. He was not playing the seducer so he was not doing too much eye rolling or lip licking which was great. He had a role to play and he did it well. This is what you call good casting. Servant YES. Lover Boy NO.
Elizabeth is Steven’s ex wife. The way in which the servants rave about Elizabeth’s beauty you would have thought that in the movie her weave would have been fixed up and a less gaudy/ more classy dress put on her so what we the viewer sees matches the image that those in the movie have of her. We see Elizabeth and she is just OK. She does not even have any charisma or charm that we can see to understand why everybody is so taken with her.
Why when Elizabeth was caught having sex with the servant by Stevens did she still continue? She didn’t even look that upset at being caught. Was it a relief being caught or was it the case that she was so carried away that she just physically could not stop?
When Stevens find out that his new wife is having an affair with AND planned to kill him with his servant Okwudili why doesn’t he sack him? Is it that he does not really care about the affair because his mind is preoccupied? Is it that he actually realises that he is being unfair towards Lillian and is actually happy that she has found joy with Okwudili but has to pretend that not to be the case? Or is he having Déjà Vu and not wanting a repetition of events past? He barely interacts with his wife and they sleep in separate rooms so why did he agree to marry her in the first place? Was it just to stop people from talking?
The scene where Okwudili and Lilian are about to enter the room that is always locked is really thrilling to watch as a viewer. By the time they enter the room you will be on the edge of your seat, anxious to know exactly what hides behind the door that Stevens will not allow anyone open. Behind the door they find Elizabeth’s body. The black and white effect that they enforced when shooting the body kind of took away from the realism. Were they trying to make the body look embalmed or what? I wonder?
I would recommend this movie. It was an original story and the plot was well paced with small revelations at every step of the way which made the plot tighter for when the final revelation is made. Excellent use of a title, which makes sense at the end when we discover that Elizabeth’s coffin is empty, having never been buried. It has to be said that the ending was very rushed which was disappointing; nevertheless it was a very good effort at bringing something fresh to Nollywood.