“The House of Secrets”—Review

By Michael Kolawole

It’s no secret that Niyi Akimolayan delivers his most impressive outing in The House of Secrets, his latest psychological thriller, uplifted by remarkable acting from Nadjite Dede, Shawn Faqua, and Efe Irele. Before its release, Akinmolayan directed a couple of commercially pleasing films, like The Wedding Party 2 (2017), The Set Up (2019), Prophetess (2021), and Chief Daddy 2: Going for The Broke (2022). Though some of these films are well-received by the audience, some were severely criticized for their disjointed and unengaging storylines; weak and unconvincing performances. 

The House of Secrets wastes no time in grabbing our attention with mesmerizing performances that take us on a rollercoaster of emotions, intrigues, and suspense—a masterful display of storytelling that sets the stage for the captivating mystery to unfold. The eerie atmosphere of the titular house, the hauntingly beautiful camerawork, and the scores effectively create an unsettling foreshadowing of the secrets that lie ahead. 

Shawn Faqua and Efe Irele in the movie from Instagram @thehouseofsecretsmovie

The early 20 minutes introduce us to Sarah (incredibly portrayed by talented Najite Dede), a woman with a troubled past struggling to move on from personal tragedy. We see how virtually everyone in the house swarms around her, pretending to care about her predicament but intending to retrieve vital information about her past. After a sequence of troubled nightmares, Sarah has some recollection but discovers she is in a setup. After that, the film wanders into a cringed revelation of the setup. Mrs. Lawal (Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi), a former police detective and the head of an NGO named Justice For The Masses, set up the house to retrieve critical information about certain documents from Sarah. The information and documents are meant to support the presidential ambition of Mrs. Durosimi Williams (Moyinoluwa Olutayo) and to crush that of General Sanni Sofa (Keppy Ekpenyong), a former military despot but now a ‘repentant’ democrat, in the upcoming Presidential elections. 

The watertight black-and-white flashbacks, which merge romance with a bit of history of the ’90s Nigerian political space disrupted by the military, redeem the sloppiness of the film’s set-up. These storylines are seamlessly interlinked as we delve into Sarah’s psyche, confused present, and troubled past—-though the past is more lustrous and well-crafted than the muddled present. 

The perfectly-executed flashback reveals the film’s intricate backstory, and we learn about Sarah’s love life with her husband Panam Peters (Shawn Faqua), a patriotic military officer who tries to foil a military coup orchestrated by his boss General Sanni Sofa. Panam gets a copy of documents about General Sanni’s plans and gives it to Sarah to hide. To keep the document perfectly hidden, Sarah gives it to Mrs. Eket (Kate Henshaw), her trusted colleague at the post office. The military hunts for Panam and tries to recover the documents. Panam and the heavily pregnant Sarah try to escape on a train, but undercover police officers attack them. The police officers try to arrest Panam and recover the documents but he fights them off. Sarah gives birth to Panam’s baby he is killed.  

The film takes unexpected turns as the layers of deception are peeled back, challenging our assumptions and preconceived notion. But trying to unravel the secret enshrouded in the protagonist’s past life and its impact on the present, the film becomes lost in the weeds, resorting to melodrama that somehow cheapened the protagonist’s ordeal. Najite Dede’s portrayal of Sarah shines in the final act as she transforms from a vulnerable woman to a powerful, determined, and resilient one. 

The house itself becomes a character of its own—the carefully constructed set design, the atmospheric lighting, Sarah’s typewriter, and the seeming cinema-like window display—all contributing to the sense of foreboding. But the story becomes wonky as it leaves the comfort of the house to explore the intricacies of the narrative. 

from businessinsider..com

Towards the film’s end, we witness a chilling portrayal of Nigerian politics’ dark and hypocritical underbelly and the NGOs supposed to serve justice. At the centre of this web of deceit are Sanni and Mrs. Lawal. Outside the grand facade of the house, a crowd of fervent supporters gathers, chanting praises for Sanni. They believe he has changed and is now a beacon of hope for the nation, promising to lead them into a brighter future. Sanni, adorned in a tailored native attire, and flashing a disarming smile, appears every bit the charismatic leader he projects himself to be. Little do his followers know that beneath this facade lies a sinister agenda. Sanni excuses himself to attend to Mrs. Lawal in the living room. On the surface, Mrs. Lawal’s organization claims to fight for the people’s rights and hold corrupt politicians accountable. However, like many other NGOs in the country, it has become a mere pawn in the hands of the powerful. Away from the watchful eyes of the cheering crowd, Sanni’s true nature emerges—the smile that had won the hearts of his supporters outside turns into a cold, calculating expression. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Lawal, her fate is sealed as Sanni summons his ruthless goons to deal with her. This scene gives a poignant reflection of the dark reality that often plagues Nigerian politics and some NGOs, exposing the insincerity of politicians who manipulate the public’s trust for personal gain while pretending to be agents of change. 

The House Of Secrets needs to be commended for its near-perfect screenplay, co-written by Niyi Akinmolayan and Dolapo Adigun, competently paced storytelling, and outstanding performances by a few members of the cast—-Najite Dede delivers a compelling performance, drawing us into Sarah’s emotional turmoil, and making us empathize with her; the supporting characters excellently played by Shawn Faqua and Efe Irele are meticulous, they add romance, depth, and intrigue to the narrative. 

From its captivating first act which up the intriguing mystery to the poignant flashback sequences of the second act which explores the protagonist’s haunting past to the explosive and burning third act,  which, though it’s slightly skewed, reveals the secrets in a subtle violent way, the film is an indication of Akinmolayan’s Anthill emerging voice of making artistic films in his terms. 

No doubt, Akinmolayan outdid (and nearly eclipsed) himself in this film. For now, The House of Secrets remains a tour de force in his directorial oeuvre. 


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