Nana Obiri Yeboah’s second feature film-The Cursed Ones which has received 15 Ghana Movie Awards nominations starts on a woolly slow path—yet it manages to piece together a remarkable picture by taking the viewer on an uncomfortable poignant journey as it attacks and exposes some of the entrenched societal prejudices developed on the back of our grand obsession with superstition.
Set somewhere in West Africa, the film takes off with a bruised eye-young man-pastor/teacher Moses (played by Joseph Otsiman) holding an old over-used tape recorder, playing a voice which the viewer would easily mistake for his own but there is more to the voice—in fact, it’s the fuel on which the whole story runs.
From the record player’s message, we are introduced to Asabi (played by Ophelia Dzidzornu); a young girl whose inability or unwillingness to speak coupled with the outlandish circumstances surrounding her appearance perfectly puts her in a community of superstitious inhabitants as nothing more than a witch, the source of the village’s unending misfortunes.
Asabi by choice or perhaps nature is unlike any of the children in the village. Though her mother-Chinua (played by Ama K. Abebrese) and her brave hunter father seem not to be troubled by the community’s unreasonable behaviour towards her—grounded in the hovering superstition that she is a witch, latter events reworked the mother and almost everyone against her.
In-between the community’s notorious suppositions and actions that Asabi is a witch and ought to be dealt with, stood a church headed by pastor Uchebo (played by Fred Amugi) which in principle should oppose such vicious acts.
But the Church seemed nothing different to the weak and yet hostile community: pastor Uchebo’s ‘regular preachings’ ended with a finger point at the community’s witch—finally sealing the deal for those who needed their lives to be made better by exorcising the witch holding them under a supposed curse.
There was a third layer to the hovering confusion which chained the community to their cultural superstition; it seemed independent from the others on a first glance but it later becomes obvious as the story unfolds that this layer is somewhat in bed with the trusted church—all so that the upper-echelons of these loosely form units would benefit financially from the ‘poor community’.
This third layer was a middle aged man-Paladin (played by Hollywood star- Jimmy Jean-Louis). At worst he couldn’t stop drinking and at best, he was a con-man, with several arrest warrants to his name.
Paladin had not sought for refuge in the small village, far away from the cities where he would likely be apprehended—he had a bigger mission.
He shrewdly exploited the cultural superstition of the community and manoeuvred around with the hidden support of a trusted community leader. The target of this conman was the inhabitants—but he had a family, ‘The Cursed Ones’ at the center of his scheme. He was the unsuspecting ‘swanky’ winner.
The narrative unfolds through the eyes of the film’s ‘hero’, an audacious journalist-Godwin (played by Oris Erhuero) whose assignment to cover a small festival of a village pushes him to the centre of bigotry, treachery and a communal torture/abuse or killing of unfamiliar children tagged witches.
‘The Cursed Ones’ is one of those art-house films whose success can be spotted from afar. It’s a well executed story—relevant to an on-going conversation about child witches and why these witches are mostly women or children.
The film manages to place all the 3 important institutions of a typical African village in focus; a small community church, a local shrine or priest and then the community’s own inherent cultural superstitions.
Obviously, it would be difficult for any person to stand against these 3 institutions when they are glued together by a common belief, especially when the person is distinct—that’s a capture of Asabi’s situation, making her the enemy of the community.
The story flows on series of clever twists—though the story can to some extent be predicted from the flow and theme, the various excellent twists succeed in compelling you to consider certain components which wouldn’t necessary come to play when issues of cultural superstition are being considered.
Interestingly, the writer and co-director-Maximilian Claussen does not only succeed in highlighting the ubiquitous absurdity in Africa’s cultural superstitions, he also takes note and entices the viewer with the rich cultural heritage of the same people the film ‘criticizes’.
As usual, Ama K. Abebrese’s performance was outstanding—yet she was powerless. Jimmy Jean-Louis was a complete package, a good pick for the movie as he brought his many years of experience to elevate the brilliance of his character—a confidence trickster.
Even with veteran actors such as Fred Amugi, Akorfa Edjeani Asiedu and David Dontoh, it would still take a good director to be able to fetch out of them such a convincing depiction of their characters.
For me, the true strength of the movie dwells in the production; the picture and sound quality are capable of competing with some of the greatest films we’ve seen this year. Most African films mainly pay attention to dialogues and neglect ‘ambience sound’—but ‘The Cursed Ones’ pays equal attention to both.