As a cinematic mnemonic, Dark October, executive-produced by serial blogger and media entrepreneur Linda Ikeji, opens old wounds, through its portrayal of the 2012 Aluu Four Lynching. This re-opening is happening at a time when everyone seemed to have moved on from the horror of the tragic events. So the movie, at once, becomes the herald of mixed reactions—reactions that are receptive and benevolent on the one hand, skeptical and reproaching in-between, and insidious and wanton on the other hand. In good faith, though, one can attest that the movie is a wakeup call for jungle justice to be nipped in the bud.
“As a blogger, I wrote the story in 2012, and I was incredibly heartbroken at what I saw, how these young innocent boys were brutally murdered for no reason,” the celebrity blogger and latest filmmaker claimed in a brief interview with TVC pressmen. Although this piece of tragedy has lived through ten years before morphing into substance for film production, it is reanimated as a classic example of the malodorous and anarchist nature of extrajudicial killings. “So when I decided that I wanted to go into the movie industry, I wanted to tell that story first. It was now important for me to tell that story to immortalize these boys,” the filmmaker said.
It is almost impossible to do a survey of jungle justice in Nigeria’s modern history without making reference to the 2012 Aluu Four Lynching. On that fateful day, dated 5th October, 2012, in the city of Port-Harcourt, four young men who happened to be students of University of Port-Harcourt were wrongfully accused of armed robbery and they were beaten to death and set ablaze by a mob of Aluu community residents. The film sets outs on the premise of this historical detail, but before the D-Day, in the buildup to the lynching, the film includes scenes of the star-crossed university students prepping themselves for an illustrious music career and strategizing on how to catch Wisdom, an unapologetic debtor, unawares in order to recover Tizzy’s money from him.
For an acute adaptation of such a horrid incident, the services of A-list director Toka McBaror (known for Merry Men: The Real Yoruba Demons) are secured over a cast of largely and ironically less known faces. Apart from film directing, McBaror boasts a career that has seen his efforts in other aspects of film making acknowledged. At the 2017 Golden Movie Awards, he was awarded Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editor and Best Art Director for Lotanna (2017).
The cast in Dark October includes Chuks Joseph, Munachi Okpara, Kem-Ajieh Ikechukwu and Kelechukwu Oriaku, amongst others. While it does not matter too much that the director’s interesting credentials dwarf the reputations of these actors, the reality of doubtful and modest acting expectations dawns on the film and seeps into our subconscious assessment of the Netflix-powered production. But because this is a film that pays tribute to the source content without entertaining overwhelming disruptions as to compromise the familiar trail of empathy or ghostly experience of catharsis associated with the source, the filmmaker earns some credits on the scoreboard.
One reaction to the film is the ignominious accusation that the filmmaker did not meet the family of the slain boys before proceeding to release the film. On this controversy, the filmmaker has kept mum; and her recalcitrance suggests that the exclusionist allegation is valid, after all, even as it is somewhat more of a retrograde attitude on the part of the filmmaker. Then, there are people who consider Linda Ikeji’s filmic inquest— her excavation of a story that was a cause for prolonged public moaning, mourning and widespread condemnation, a story which, in their opinion, should have been left to wither away— an insensitive one.
From an entirely artistic point of view, you can notice certain discussions in Dark October are just as pedestrian as some of the film’s unmotivated characters. For instance, the repetitious talk about Tizzy recovering his money from Wisdom starts to become boring, even though it seems like a mechanism to build tension before the fateful day. Also, the test writing scene in which the lecturer fishes out a female student, Lola Diri, for cheating, followed by the scene where Rachel gets annoyed for being kept waiting by Tizzy only for him to be found flirting with Lola, appear to be inconsequential to the basic plot of the film. Then, in her role as girlfriend to Tizzy, much is left to be desired of Rachel’s somewhat tepid body language whenever she nags. Besides, we do not see any more action from this Lola girl, which makes her appearance in the first place questionable.
Dark October is an acceptable quasi-historical reflection and a call-to-action merchandise. Its narration is journalistic because there are intermittent references to the date, time and venue of scenes as the film progresses. It is quite commendable that the film attends to the nitty-gritty of the actual incident. A sense of verisimilitude is achieved, as well, with gory scenes of being tortured to death and the students’ rampage. However, like we have in most adaptions, some information from this account have been tweaked in the film. Prominent is the use of names. As a palpable gesture of sensitivity, the names of the young men who are characters in the film differ from names of the real-life victims. “Aku” is used as the community name in the film in place of Aluu.
“Sometimes, the madness is never rehearsed, yet it happens,” muses a grievous Chibuzor, friend to the lynched boys, towards the end of the film. While he indulges in philosophical lamentation, the pace of his voicing in synchrony with the solemn background sounds, he condemns the practice of jungle justice and considers himself lucky for having missed death by a whisker because, had he no excuse not to join his friends in the visit to Wisdom’s, he would have faced the same fate. In the final moments of the film, the bereaved admonishes, “Whatever you can do to stop jungle justice, do it”. Sadly, this message goes for law enforcement agents, who, as the film rightfully reveals, are often privy to wanton murders.