93 Days deserves commendation. If for nothing else, for the scale and execution of one of the touchier aspects of Nigeria’s history. It is a film made by consummate professionals who designed it for maximum viewing impact, and it shows. I would recommend viewing in a cinema or a supersized screen. 93 Days is a perfect movie machine and that works mostly for it, but also against it.
The first establishing shot in Steve Gukas’ movie event is an aerial view of Lagos state. It is a glorious picture capturing the developing elements of one of Africa’s biggest economies. There are many of these shots over a few cities most notably Lagos and Washington DC, accompanied by a booming score which can only be described as doomsday aspirational –horns and strings rising to match the grave looks on everybody’s face. Even the film poster is a black background bearing red letters and a menacing Ebola written in small white letters. Maximum impact.
Many who followed news reports will be pleased with the retelling of events which were portrayed with as much truth and credibility as with artistic execution¸ something only a gifted or extremely capable director can pull off.
The story is not mysterious or unique. Patrick Sawyer, a diplomat from then Ebola ridden Liberia, arrives in Nigeria displaying symptoms at first consistent with malaria. He progressively gets worse but demands to leave. However the discerning eye of a doctor and a team of medical professionals decide there might be more to his case than malaria, and retroactively prevent what could have been one of the deadliest events in recent Nigerian history. Anyone around Nigeria during the Ebola crises will remember the fear and paranoia and the increased demands for hand sanitizers.
The film plays as a documentary experiment, exploring the different collaborative efforts across medical, political and commonplace efforts made by people to keep the disease as contained as possible. Top marks for the cinematography by ace Cinematographer, Yinka Edwards, who executes its scale better than any recent Nigerian movie.
They say editors and sound engineers are the unsung heroes of movies. In this case the rule applies to the editor whose work is so well done, it becomes almost easy to forget how much expertise is required to transition effortlessly and retain the movie’s strong sense of dread. In the case of the movie score, the rule turns on its head with a soundtrack that demanded all the attention it could receive. In the spirit of maximum impact.
For all of its technical competency, the real gift in 93 Days is the ensemble. So well selected and directed in carrying the seriousness of the situation without overplaying the doomsday expressions or reducing the event to just laughs. And there are a few deserved laughs, particularly a scene with a panicked taxi driver who discovers he has just driven an Ebola victim in his vehicle. The true star of the movie in the sea of stars however is Bimbo Akintola, playing the role of the late Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh. For a movie with such heavy themes, she embodied a natural grace and restraint and I found myself charmed watching her do the most mundane of things like blinking or smiling at her son before telling him she loves him.
And speaking of emotional contrivances, the movie is filled with more than its needed share. In an attempt to humanize its characters, some of the familiar backstories seem contrived and end up lessing the intended impact. The cast was strong enough to draw and sustain empathy without convenient husbands and children to increase audience investment in them.
It is a recommended watch not just for moviegoers but for those aspiring to be a part of the filmmaking process. So far, no other movie deserves being screened at the Toronto International Film Festival more than this thriller. So well directed and managed by Steve Gukas, who somehow managed to convey the miracle that Nigeria survived an Ebola outbreak and kept its Nigerianness intact.
93 Days was one of the best movies screened at AFRIFF 2016 and earns a score of a Popcorn and Soda.
This review is written by Alithnayn Abdulkareem.