Dark October says it is inspired by true events. it begins with a lie.
After a small community is overrun by crime, members decide to take up arms and defend their families. Police kept letting those the local vigilante squad captured off the hook. So their leaders decide to take matters into their own hands.
Without a moment for pause, when they heard someone raise the alarm that thieves had invaded their community in the early hours of an October morning in 2012, they went in with stones and sticks, leading to the brutal murder of four young men; Chiadika Biringa, Lloyd Toku Mike, Tekena Elkanah and Ugonna Obuzor, all firstborn sons of their parents, all undergraduate at the University of Port Harcourt. They were friends, and they had come to collect what they were owed.
For days, Nigeria stood still, in utter disbelief as we came face to face with the horrific incident. Clips and images from the scene were plastered on BlackBerry group chats. The famous gossip blogger Linda Ikeja has now decided to immortalise the incident in a biographical drama film, Dark October, now on Netflix.
It fails woefully, drawing the audience’s attention instead to the type of sensational gossip blogging that catapulted Ikeji to billionaire status.
For forty minutes, Dark October treats its audience to the traumatic beating of the young men. In slow motion and emotive singing, they are portrayed in torn cloth, covered in sand, dragged through the ground, and whipped by a community for forty minutes of the one-hour-thirty-minute film.
With the other half of the film’s duration, Ikeji weaves a tale not too far from the gossipy headlines that had been a staple in her blogs for years.
Dark October follows Uchenna, a privileged student with strong music ambitions, three friends and a nagging girlfriend, Rachel, all young students at the University of Port Harcourt. As the story progresses, we begin to see what led to the incident that led to their lynching by the youths of the Aki community, a small community distressed by crime.
Uchenna has sold a pair of sneakers to a student who lives in the community and has now refused to pay. With his friends and a cultist with a gun, they storm his house in the morning and collect the money. It didn’t go well.
Stories like this, especially when they feature mostly new faces in Nollywood, can have great potential for launching stellar careers for young actors. But Dark October is not the kind of movie that launches careers. This is the type of movie that dent careers right from the start.
It looked like there was no script, and a bunch of too-good-for-their-own-good Theatre Arts BA freshmen improvised for a desperate attempt at exposing the problems of jungle justice at best. At worst like a secondary school convocation play.
In one scene, the girlfriend, Rachel, is excited about the progress of Uche’s music career. All at once, in the same scene, he apologises to her. For what exactly? The movie won’t say. Then she gets angry, erratically, not unlike how Linda Ikeji has portrayed women on her blog for decades. Throughout the movie, the girlfriend remains out of control, always catching feelings, always irrational and just plain stupid, fighting with him for investing his money into his music career and not buying her a bag.
The type of caricature of lecturers that dominated Nollywood and music videos from the early aught is revived. In Dark October, the lecturer looks confused in old unironed blazers and a filthy hat.
The continuity is haphazardly done. The acting feels rushed and lacks precision. A scene that captures Uchenna’s performance as a rising musician is emblematic of a type of unabashed this-is-just-a-film attitude. Uche doesn’t even pretend to be a good performer, dropping bar after bar for his young audience of university undergrads. His lipsyncing is shabby, his dancing is disjointed, and his fans’ exuberant gyration is not in sync with the song.
Dark October could not even be bothered with taking itself seriously, so much so that it comes off as too lackadaisical.
The controversy around the film comes to a head when it’s revealed that Ikeji had carried on with the project without the consent of the families of the boys killed. In response to criticism, Ikeji, in an interview said that the story had stayed with her all through the years.
There must be some guardrails in this age of clickbait content. Certain events should not fall victim to the clickbait mafia of the age of scrolling.
Dark October is daring, but for all the wrong reasons.
Of course, the plan was never to draw attention to the issue of jungle justice that has ravaged the country in recent years, nor to force that society to sit with how it murdered four young innocent men or how cultism has infected south southern universities to its core. The plan all along is to draw eyeballs.
Linda Ikeji will let you know she knows how it’s done.
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