Tope Oshin’s “Here Love Lies” Bestrides A World Of Frail Romance And Murderous Thriller

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Just when you think all would eventually turn into a buttered, creamy love-ironed existence for romantically embattled, family-estranged travel blogger Amanda, another devil-of-a-plot-twist rears its ugly head. All seems fair at first with the unfolding of events in Here Love Lies, before turning sour, as Tope Oshin (co-producer of the fourth highest-grossing Nollywood film of all time, The Wedding Party 2, and a co-director of one of Nollywood’s most successful TV series, Tinsel) takes us on a rollercoaster of emotions. A genre-bending Nollywood story, the film deftly weaves romance, thriller, and a touch of mystery together.

Released 3rd March 2023 exclusively on Netflix and set in both Nigeria and the USA, Here Love Lies is produced and directed by Tope Oshin. Executively produced by  Daniel Ademinokan and Tope Oshin, the film casts Tope Oshin as Amanda, Sam Dede as Father Abraham,  Tim Shelburne as Michael, Tina Mba as Mary, Omowunmi Dada as Kemi, Angel Unigwe as Nora, Barbara Walsh as Liz, Bambi Everson as Edna, and Daniel Etim Effiong as Jide, among others. It was the recipient of the AMAA award for Best Film by an African-born director living abroad in September 2022, and it serves as a glorious comeback for Tope Oshin, following a four-year hiatus in filmmaking. 

In the opening scene set in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria, a priest is seen bitterly reprimanding his daughter Amanda for getting pregnant out of wedlock. When he tries to get her to abort the pregnancy to save his name from ridicule, she objects. This leads to him rejecting the girl, and she leaves the family to survive on her own. After being sent packing, she is taken advantage of in the streets. The camera produces this assault scene as a flashback later on. Fourteen years later, when Muna (Amanda’s sister) becomes an unwanted guest at Amanda’s residence in Lagos, the younger sister’s attempt to sue for reconciliation is rebuffed, as an unforgiving Amanda hastily recollects those unpleasant survivalist memories of her and her baby. 

In Lagos, where Amanda has forged a path for herself in the travel and tourism industry, she and her teenage daughter Chimnora (or simply “Nora”) share an apartment with her fun-loving friend Kemi. Despite being a single mother, Amanda remains willing to explore relationships. We do not see many of her potential suitors, but from a secret conversation between Amanda and Kemi, we learn the men always leave after being informed about her child. The first suitor we actually meet in the movie is Jide. Much about him is unexplored, except that the six-month-old relationship capsizes almost as soon as it starts to look promising. However, Amanda becomes just as guilty as the deceitfully married Jide when she also lies about having an illness. It was all for good that the whole dating charade was hampered by Mabel, Jide’s legitimate wife. Here Amanda’s moral blemish is overlooked, as the film attends to overwhelming aspects of her character—her womanly strength, with resilience in the face of betrayal, and her blissful career trajectory.

The transition  from a romantic comedy to a thriller has to be one of the barely anticipated aspects of the movie. When Amanda goes on a business trip in the USA, she takes the chance to visit her white American admirer, Michael. Before things go awry, there have been cues. One is when Michael introduces Amanda to a room in his apartment where dead creatures are exhibited. Another is Edna’s (Michael’s oldie) unfriendly attitude, which is an attempt to scare away Amanda. Nollywood films aren’t very popular for sudden, unpredictable twists. In this case, the cues aren’t so glaring and unambiguous enough to foreshadow the macabre that soon unfolds. Who could have thought Edna was acting in the interest of Amanda? At the end of the entire drama, the protagonist’s safety is guaranteed, but she has decided to mend the severed ties with her immediate family. This is the much needed solace.

Here Love Lies raises questions on the safety of online dating. While many couples have found their better halves through social media, such avenues are usually treated with suspicion. The evolution of Michael from the sweetest online admirer and doting, physical lover to a psychopath capable of stone-cold cruelty is scary. Indeed, it is a precarious world in motion, and there has never been a time to be more wary of oddly excess friendliness than now.

Thanks to cinematographer Daniel Ademinokan, art director Ngozi Nkiri, and the entire technical team from Nigeria and the USA, the movie boasts wonderful visuals and transitions, with soundtracks peppering the mood of different scenes in unique ways. An example is when the movie begins with some church engagement, juggling between cuts of the reminiscent past and the sombre present. Here’s the trick that poignantly captures the distraught state of the priest. This thoughtful beginning is also left at the mercy of the praise-themed vocals of Nathaniel Bassey in “Olorun Agbaye—You are Mighty” which befits the penitent church atmosphere. In another moment, while Amanda, face brightened, spends time exchanging chats with Michael on her phone, sonic love potions of Noa Lembersky’s “Say Something” and S.O.’s “The Only One” have whetted the background.

In spite of the vagrant use of plot twist, which not many Nollywood optimists might applaud, Here Love Lies is driven reverently on the basis of morals. It’s a matter of what side of morality you are on. Nigeria is a society that is traditionally unfair to females, with getting pregnant out of wedlock viewed as an aberration, so you should understand the cultural difference at play when an American, for instance Michael, after hearing the backstory to Amanda’s single parenting, faults her parents for denouncing their daughter.

With 2hr 11mins of running time, Tope Oshin’s Netflix Original is worth streaming any day, any time. But be prepared to tolerate the time-wasting scenes and watch with a mind open to the possibility that, where there’s the littlest of incaution, life could just turn out as unfair to even the noblest person out there.

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