Review: Rattlesnake Shines, But Not Bright Enough

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Franklin Ugobude

Right from the onset, Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story had very big shoes to fill. It was the second project by the film production company, Play Network Studios. The first, Living In Bondage: Breaking Free which was released last year had been a huge success, both commercially and critically, grossing over 168 million naira and winning seven awards at the 2020 edition of the popular AMVCAs. Breaking Free’s success, according to its director, Ramsey Nouah, sparked the idea to recreate classic Nollywood stories, an agenda that Play Network has unofficially made its mantra. There’s already a December release date for the remake of 1992 blockbuster, Nneka The Pretty Serpent, and a 2021 date for Glamour Girls, and from the look of things, there’s no slowing down for the company.

The Ahanna Story is a remake of Amaka Igwe’s 1995 Nollywood crime-thriller Rattlesnake that revolved around a true-life story of Ahanna who was roped into a life of crime after going through hardship. After his successful debut with Breaking Free, Nouah returns to the director’s chair for Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story, and works alongside Breaking Free screenwriter, Nicole Asinugo, to put a modern spin to Amaka Igwe’s original story. Stan Nze plays the titular Ahanna, alongside a supporting cast that includes Bucci Franklin, Osas Ighodaro, Efa Iwara, and Emeka Nwagbaraocha. Nollywood veterans such as Chiwetalu Agu, Sonny McDon, Nobert Young, Gloria Young, Chinyere Wilfred, Cassandra Odita, Fred Amata, and Ejike Asiegbu also make appearances. However, this star-studded cast isn’t enough to save what ends up as an underwhelming adaptation of the original material. The strength of the film’s story is built around Ahanna, but Nze’s decent performance is undermined every step of the way by an uninspiring script whose checklist has ‘character development’ at the very bottom of priorities.

Ahanna’s journey from a happy young man to the leader of a gang of robbers is haphazardly told through off-screen jumps and voiceover narration that’s telling the audience, rather than showing it. The script nearly redeems itself with an arc when Ahanna mistakenly commits his first murder and agonizes over the burden of the act in what was a rare ray of hope, but that is soon snuffed out by everything else that follows. Amaka Igwe’s Rattlesnake was built on a foundation of intricate storytelling that draws the viewer into Ahanna’s world and details his bumps along the road, and clashes with equally well-crafted adversaries.

The Ahanna Story relies on taking a lot of shortcuts, things happen too fast, and everything feels so rushed it barely registers. Asinugo and Nouah cannot make up their minds about whether they are making an Ocean Eleven film, a Money Heist film, or a Robin Hood film, so they make a mix of everything and the results are unflattering for them, and frustrating for viewers. 

There’s some flash, and there’s some sparkle, but not enough substance to make The Ahanna Story a memorable viewing experience. Some of that sparkle shines through Franklin’s Nze character whose boundless energy is a constant source of hope that the story will take a better turn at some point. Ighodaro’s Amara is another one of the film’s rare delights who works well with the little she’s given to do.

Despite the film’s lack of fluidity, it does justice to the music, borrowing songs from 2Face, The Cavemen, and an original soundtrack album put together by regular collaborator, Larry Gaaga. This album features Davido, Patoranking, Zoro, and a host of other musicians. The film’s moderate use of the Igbo language retained some of the original film’s charm, a decision that could also be attributed as a not so subtle nod to the Nigerian Oscar Selection committee accepting only films that have a predominantly non-English dialogue track.

The Ahanna Story also gets cinematography right, a quality that can be credited to the director of photography, Muhammad Atta, who has worked on other projects such as Chief Daddy, The Set-Up and more recently, Beyonce’s Black Is King. In times like this with the #EndSARS protests still fresh in the minds of Nigerians, The Ahanna Story is a pretty decent reflection of the system screwing people over in many ways. Its commentary on the disparity between the rich and the poor in Nigeria adds a decent level of resonance while its brief exploration of unemployment in the country re-emphasizes the corrupt nature of Nigerian politicians. It also reinforces the common suggestion that people are reflections of the society they find themselves in. However, not enough justice is done here as everything else simply fails to earn the viewer’s loyal attention.

The curse of every remake is the inevitable comparison to the original and whether it stacks up to it or not, and The Ahanna Story simply cannot lace the boots of Amaka Igwe’s Rattlesnake. 

Franklin Ugobude is a writer who enjoys covering culture, and Nollywood and writes a monthly newsletter called Frankly Thought Out  which you should definitely subscribe to.

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