Wickedly devious and amusingly frightening, is the best way I can describe Sylvia, a 2018 film directed by Daniel Oriahi (Taxi Driver – Oko Ashewo). I truly enjoyed every bit of this emotional rollercoaster of a drama.
The film tells the story of the intricate bond between Richard (Chris Attoh) and Sylvia (Zainab Balogun). A bond that has existed in a dreamscape ever since Richard was a child, and one that he attempts to break-off as an adult, now planning to marry a ‘real’ woman, Gbemisola (Ini Dima-Okojie). This is where the plot begins to thicken. Of course, Sylvia refuses to let go of Richard and proceeds to make her way into his ‘real’ world to disrupt his perfect life without her.
To start of, this is a well written script by Vanessa Kanu, and every other aspect of the production was top notch. I really liked the backdrop of the film, especially the dreamscape location as well as the subtle camera movements that was used.
The director uses some pretty standard, but effective techniques to pull the story together. By shooting dominant characters from below, to make them appear more menacing. Such as how the 5 foot-something (I’m guessing about 5’5), Zainab was made to appear taller than a 6-foot-plus Chris in one of the scenes Sylvia was angry at Chris.
I also cannot discount the brilliant sound scoring by Michael ‘Truth’ Ogunlade which helped to create an heightened sense of emotion that drew viewers into intense scenes.
Sylvia toys brilliantly with our minds in this paranormal romantic drama? Zainab brilliantly acted out the role of a twisted imaginary Sylvia. It is great to see how much she has developed as an actress over the years (Wedding Party, Hotel Hibiscus), she manages to conjure up the right expressions when needed, to transform her naturally soft features to appear more menacing. Chris Attoh was his ever-brilliant self, without overacting especially in scenes where only he could supposedly see Sylvia. Obaro (Udoka Oyeka) deserves a special nod for his acting in a supporting role as well.
Although, from a Nigerian context, this isn’t a brand new concept, spirit wives and spirit husbands are widely accepted as a normal occurrence across Africa. It is still refreshing to see an original African concepts explored, and shot with great balance.
The hidden subplot overall, is the issue of mental health/illness in the African culture. Sylvia could have been used to start a discussion around this topic, but the drama overtook any political message or questions to be explored. Questions such as, was she real or just a figment of his imagination? Could she have been both?
I liken this movie to the 2001 film, A Beautiful Mind, starring Russel Crowe. In which we see John Nash (Crowe) battle with paranoid schizophrenia. I felt Sylvia could have easily tackled a similar subject if it had just left the viewers wondering long enough which world was the real one.