Review: Blood Sisters is Another Beautiful Yet Imperfect Ebony Life Production

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Blood Sisters, the first Nigerian Netflix Original series, struts with a new conviction that put Nollywood on another elegant pedestal but the incoherence of its plots and some improbable incidents soil its conviction. The first half of the first episode looks like a beat-for-beat remake of The Wedding Party, its obvious predecessor but it suddenly takes an abrupt twist that makes the series a rollercoaster of actions, with many tight turns and steep slopes. 

Set in the highbrow, lowbrow, and outskirts of Lagos, Blood Sisters tells the story of two best friends Sarah (played by Ini Dima-Okojie) and Kemi (played by Nancy Isime) as they prepare for the former’s grand wedding with her wealthy and belligerent fiancé Kola (played by Deyemi Okanlawon). What should be a dream and coveted traditional wedding evolves into a nightmare when, a few moments into the wedding, Kemi walks in on Kola strangling Sarah. She intervenes and is beaten up, too. While trying to defend Sarah and herself, she accidentally kills Kola. After that tragic incident, the film becomes a delirium as Kemi and Sarah strive to cover their sordid deeds. 

The series allows itself near-total freedom. It’s applauded for taking a sensitive, surprisingly light-hearted approach to its potentially difficult subject matter. But that freedom almost doomed its ambitions. It makes the series aimlessly roam, twist, and turn with a few divergences like the vignettes about the family’s dark secret and siblings’ rivalry, drug addiction and corrupt police practices, and a doctor who moonlights as an organ harvester. It’s also garnished with a few ambiguous, nearly flawed tactics by the creative team who try to weave their deliberately scattered actions into a cohesive whole. 

There are wrinkles in an almost pristine texture of the screenplays, credited to writers Craig Freimond and Zelipa Zulu. The dramas and trifling cliffhangers serve as ploys to drive the scattered, impulsive plots. The pulse-racing and kinetic sequences are strung together by a thin plot, buoyed by moderate characters’ development, and brilliant, corny dialogue. Twists in films are exceptionally different. Some are ingenious, some are not. The twist in Blood Sisters is less intricate and slightly convoluted. 

Filmed with a lot of styles and atmospherically directed, the directors placed the actions in the characters and carefully assembled them in captivating images and words. Jointly directed by Biyi Bandele and Kenneth Gyang, two of the most proficient directors in Nollywood. The first two episodes directed by Bandele established the central characters, incite the incidents, and predicaments, and locked in, while the last two directed by Gyang raise the stakes, deal with subplots and twists and resolve the crises. 

The two episodes helmed by Bandele are glamorous and sassy; they are reminiscent of his directorial approaches in the historical Half of A Yellow Sun and the colorful, soapy drama, Fifty. The episodes directed by Gyang exhibit the subtle dimensions beneath his directorial surface. When it comes to analyzing the human condition and women’s physical and emotional hardships, Gyang is particularly known to be visually appealing and appalling. Like in Oloture, most of the characters in Blood Sisters are trapped in outfits that subtly incorporate fashion with fetishism, yet they are suffering and need to be redeemed. In the closing scene, where the family gathers to avenge Kola’s death on Kemi and Sarah, the action focuses on the film’s coldest character, Uduak (played by Kate Henshaw), and the most sympathetic character, Timeyin. There we are let in on Uduak’s dark secret and Timeyin’s fury, her suffering, her loss, and the trap she’s in. While we are identifying with both of them and fearing for both of them, in a way, Gyang deftly exploits the scene to set the closing moral dilemma. With their bold framing of gory scenes, nudity, and sex, Bandele and Gyang defiantly disregard The National Film and Video Censors Board’s (NFVCB) outworn prejudices to regulate and stifle filmmakers’ creative expression. 

With limited but essential scenes, Deyemi Okanlawon as the bellicose Kola provides a decent performance that enables the story to flow into its chaotic designs. Aggravated by Nancy Isime and Ini Dima-Okojie’s iniquitous acts, the actions explode into hiding and seeking, running and hunting, typical of crime and road films. The chemistry between Ini Dima-Okojie and Nancy Isime stabilized their performances. When one person is about to drift off or ham up the performance, the other person comes in and levels things up. For her major acting debut, an alumnus of the EbonyLife creative academy, Genoveva Umeh enacts an exceptional performance in the role of Timeyin, the wild, inhibited stoner- the family’s black sheep. She steals the show from the moment she is introduced and keeps it up until the film’s closing action. As the dapper but unnerving Uncle B, Ramsey Nouah is stripped of his role as the Nollywood lover man or the unfunny guy, as used in films by the comedian and filmmaker, AY Makun. He is reserved as a bodyguard who watches and protects Ademola’s icy, sour matriarch and her offspring. But as the incidents worsen and the tensions deepen, he is let loose to enact himself as a calm but dreadful macho man. 

The pairing of the characters is interesting and remarkable. Where one character is cold and restrained; the other is hot and assertive. Take, for instance, Kemi and Sarah. On the one hand, Kemi is a daring hard nut who is always willing to challenge the status quo and risk her life to achieve what she wants. On the other hand, Sarah is a submissive, level-headed person who is not willing to challenge the status quo or risk her life for a problem. Likewise, Femi and his wife, Olayinka (played by Gabriel Afolayan and Kehinde Bankole), are adorably paired to complement each other’s temperaments. Despite his resentment toward his domineering little brother, and his burning desire to head the family’s multi-billion Naira company, Femi remains contained in his approach; he is not willing to get his hands stained with blood. On the contrary, Olayinka isn’t afraid to sully her hands with blood or let hell break loose for her husband to achieve his fervent desire of becoming the company’s head. 

For all its plot errors and hackneyed scenes, Blood Sisters ends with a high note of moral paradox, a slight difference from what anyone might politely anticipate from a film by EbonyLife Studio. With the success of this one, the production team might jumble the cuts from the screenplays, add a few actions and make another series. And with the near-fluency of its all-star cast, witty noir pattern, and skewed but enjoyable diversion, Blood Sisters, nonetheless, makes a big grin and strikes a pose in the pictures of unexceptional Nollywood productions curated by EbonyLife Studio.

Michael Kolawole is a critic, screenwriter, and poet.

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