Empty Coffin

Empty Coffin

Originally uploaded by NollywoodForever

Empty Coffin ~ 2009
Story – Nkechi Emeodi, Terry Emeka Emeodi
Screenplay – Nkechi Emeodi
Director – Emeka Hill Umeasor

Starring:
Ufuoma Ejenobor – Lilian
Emeka Ike – Okwudili
Zack Orji – Mr Stevens
Vincent Opurum – Samuel
Princewill Walter – Shasha
Queen Blessing Ebigiason – Elizabeth
Fred Peters – Inspector Akpan
Nkechi Emeodi – Ekaete
Peace Ameh – Model

Themes:
Arranged Marriage
Death
Mortality
Passion

My Rating – 78%

Lilian has been recently been widowed. Her husband committed suicide because he could not face the debt that he had accrued. Her family too are in debt and so arrange for her to marry a Mr Stevens, a rich widower who has promised to expunge their debts.

She arrives at his home only to realise that her new husband is still pining over his dead wife. He has even kept time still from the moment that she died by removing the batteries in all the clocks in the house.

Trapped in a loveless and uncommunicative marriage Lilian strikes up a friendship with a servant Okwudili. They bond over a love and appreciation for art. Together they discover a secret that Mr Steven’s is hiding, a secret more deadly that they could have ever imagined.

*************SPOILERS*************

The movie starts with credits rolling, white writing on a black background. It is a dramatic and impressive start. We hear soft piano music with some striking chords playing and over it we hear Lilian narrating the story of her husband’s death. We learn that she caved into the pressure to remarry to save her family from the humiliation of financial ruin. In her monologue she says,

“I was sent to join this man Mr Steven’s at his home somewhere far. I knew that he had lost his wife… This was all I knew. I didn’t even have a picture.”

Halfway through the monologue we see Lilian in a car being driven to meet her new husband. The driver dumps her outside the gate of the house. The driver has been told to drop her off at a certain spot and not go any further. This tells us that there is something very odd about this Steven’s fellow.

Stevens is very stiff in his interaction with his new wife. He is uncommunicative and replies to her questions in the shortest way possible. The first strong inkling that something is really wrong is when he tells her about the room at the top of the house that is always locked and that no one can enter. She is his wife but he will not give any explanation as to why this is.
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The beauty in Ufoma’s performance were the small subtleties like the raise of an eyebrow that can be so easily missed with the blink of an eye. The use of the piano soundtrack ties in nicely with Mr Stevens’s passion for the piano. The music is used effectively to heighten tension and emotion

Lilian writes in her diary,

“I have everything at my beck and call but I want more… I am a woman I want to love and be loved.”

Lilian releases her feelings with pen and paper while Stevens does the same through music meanwhile they live in virtual silence. Lilian is so unhappy that she contemplates running away.

I felt that there wasn’t always clear direction in Ufoma’s performance. As much as I love her and think that she is an excellent actress, at times she was overdoing the come hither-ness a little. There is a scene where Okwudili and Lilian were painting together and there was way too much going on with the lip biting and gyrating in the seat. It was not in line with Lillian’s character as in scenes afterward she is more subtle and coy, so there was a feeling of inconsistency with her character’s behaviour. I had the feeling that perhaps the director had told her she wasn’t being sexy enough and to turn it up a notch.

I found the coy subtleness she displayed at times to be far sexier than the gyrating and Ini-isms. One does not need to start wriggling around like an uncontrollable nympho for the viewer to get the point that you are attracted to a guy. I thought that it was meant to be a sweet romantic love about two people falling in love with art as the backdrop, but all the posturing they had her doing cheapened the story. I say – either it is a sweet and romantic story or it’s a lust driven tale of passion. Choose one. You of course can have both, with one turning into the other, but at this point they hadn’t even kissed yet so it didn’t fit.

Zack Orji plays the silent brooder come savage attacker excellently. We see his anger bubbling beneath the surface to the point where at the end of part 1 he launches a violent attack on Lilian.

I liked this role for Emeka. He was not playing the seducer so he was not doing too much eye rolling or lip licking which was great. He had a role to play and he did it well. This is what you call good casting. Servant YES. Lover Boy NO.

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Elizabeth is Steven’s ex wife. The way in which the servants rave about Elizabeth’s beauty you would have thought that in the movie her weave would have been fixed up and a less gaudy/ more classy dress put on her so what we the viewer sees matches the image that those in the movie have of her. We see Elizabeth and she is just OK. She does not even have any charisma or charm that we can see to understand why everybody is so taken with her.

Why when Elizabeth was caught having sex with the servant by Stevens did she still continue? She didn’t even look that upset at being caught. Was it a relief being caught or was it the case that she was so carried away that she just physically could not stop?
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When Stevens find out that his new wife is having an affair with AND planned to kill him with his servant Okwudili why doesn’t he sack him? Is it that he does not really care about the affair because his mind is preoccupied? Is it that he actually realises that he is being unfair towards Lillian and is actually happy that she has found joy with Okwudili but has to pretend that not to be the case? Or is he having Déjà Vu and not wanting a repetition of events past? He barely interacts with his wife and they sleep in separate rooms so why did he agree to marry her in the first place? Was it just to stop people from talking?

The scene where Okwudili and Lilian are about to enter the room that is always locked is really thrilling to watch as a viewer. By the time they enter the room you will be on the edge of your seat, anxious to know exactly what hides behind the door that Stevens will not allow anyone open. Behind the door they find Elizabeth’s body. The black and white effect that they enforced when shooting the body kind of took away from the realism. Were they trying to make the body look embalmed or what? I wonder?
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I would recommend this movie. It was an original story and the plot was well paced with small revelations at every step of the way which made the plot tighter for when the final revelation is made. Excellent use of a title, which makes sense at the end when we discover that Elizabeth’s coffin is empty, having never been buried. It has to be said that the ending was very rushed which was disappointing; nevertheless it was a very good effort at bringing something fresh to Nollywood.

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  1. JohnGana says:

    Unfortunately this story was taken directly from an unproduced script posted on screenwriters website in 2003. I know this because I’ve read the original script written by Sean Atkinson and under the title of The Diary. Here’s the logline from the site:
     
    The Diary, by Sean Atkinson (2003)
    Genre: Thriller, Drama, Obsession
    Gretchen’s family’s fortune is depleted.  To her discontent she is married to a wealthy landowner, a handsome recluse with a troubled past and a terrifying and mind-bending secret.
     
    Just as some have commented on this forum that the plot reads like Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, The Diary is similar because it is set during the same time period and has similar elements in the story as well. Here’s the opening page:
     
    FADE IN:
     
    Silence. Our world is in absolute darkness.
     
    IN THE DARKNESS: Around the edges light begins to invade, breaking the darkness. It is not white light but shades of blue and it moves like water – flowing and rippling as it engulfs the black. More light continues to flow into the darkness, it seems random and uncontrolled, but more and more we can see that the darkness is contouring to taking a form.
     
    The sounds of crashing waves intrude on the silence and it becomes clear that we are under water and that the blue light is nothing more than the sun’s reflection over a body of water.
     
    EXT. UNDER WATER – AFTERNOON
    We DESCEND further and now the shape has taken from. It is the disturbing sight of a WOMAN’S BODY floating limp with the current under the water. We cannot see her face clearly. The sounds of the ocean deep are drowned out by the sound of a young woman’s voice-
     
    GRETCHEN (V.O.)
    I am dead now. I know this and I accept it. If there is a God, might there also be a devil? And if so at which table shall I be seated? For in this life I have done good deeds…and bad.
     
    CLOSE ON A GOLDEN HEART-SHAPED PENDANT That floats freely around her neck, chained to her by a fine necklace.
     
    GRETCHEN (V.O.) (CONT’D)
    All of this caused by a book – a journal. It should have been nothing to anyone but to me, it’s owner. But I was to learn that even this simple diary would become of great significance in the lives of others, and also to my very own. We stay with the floating body in silence for a moment longer before-
     
    FADE OUT:
     
    Once again we are in darkness.
     
    SUDDENLY, a single flame ignites out of nowhere and banishes the darkness. It quivers for a moment and then begins to burn strongly. From the burning reflection on glass we can see that the flame is incased in a gas-lantern. The lantern is placed carefully on a solid wooden platform. Light gives way to-
     
    INT. A BEDROOM – NIGHT
    The wooden platform is in fact a large oak desk. An ink well and several pens lay scattered across the counter. A jewelry box, an array of perfume bottles of all shapes and sizes sit amongst the tools of this writer. This is the desk of a lady, one of considerable wealth.
     
    A BEAUTIFUL JOURNAL One with a leather cover is laid carefully onto the counter. The cover is opened to reveal pages and pages of diary entries. The daily experiences of this person, her dreams, ambitions, sights, tastes and loves are all listed with dates. Raw emotion spelled out in ink.
     
    A PEN DIPS INTO THE INK And begins to write on a fresh page. The words flow easily – a word becomes a sentence, a sentence into a paragraph.
     
    GRETCHEN (V.O.)
    (a diary entry)
    Dear diary, it has been less than a week since the funeral of my late husband and although the mourning period has only just begun, my mother has already begun the search for my new husband-to-be.
     
    CUT TO:
     
    INT. A BATHROOM – HUSBAND’S HOUSE – DAY
    A tub sits to one side of this elegant bathroom. Two locked double doors sit only metres from the tub. CLOSE ON THE SIDE OF THIS TUB where the frantic sounds of knocking, ‘jiggling’ of the two locked doors and calls to “open up” and “let us in” from the other side may be heard.
     
    GRETCHEN (V.O.)
    You see, I was only married six months before the unfortunate accident involving my husband’s wrists and a knife which resulted in his premature departure from this earth.
     
    A BLOODY ARM falls limp before us. A deep gash along an artery allows blood to gush onto the tiles below. A knife ‘clangs’ onto the floor beside the pooling blood…
     
    Like I said, it’s an unproduced script so it had it’s flaws. Nevertheless, if you’ve seen this movie and can confirm the plot similarities with Mr. Atkinson’s script, then you’d agree with me that there’s plagiarism involved. The Diary was written in 2003. Empty Coffin was released in 2009. You see what I’m getting at?
     
    I am yet to watch Empty Coffin to note all similarities. However, I’ll resist the urge because I already know from the premise that this script isn’t original and was plagiarized. I don’t know if the screenwriters Nkechi & Terry Emeka Emeodi do this regularly (I hope not) or if Director Emeka Hill Umeasor was aware of this. Either way, it’s not good and speaks volumes of Nollywood screenwriters. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME!!!
     
    Anyone interested in reading Sean Atkinson’s The Diary to compare and contrast can email me at youbadassmutha@yahoo.com. 

    • Nollywood says:

      @JohnGana From what you have posted I do not see the similarities. I would be interested in seeing the full thing. you can mail me at iluvnollywood@gmaildotcom

  2. JohnGana says:

    I wonder what else they are blatantly plagiarising in Nollywood…

    • Nollywood says:

      @JohnGana I mean Frank and Abdul from Venus Productions rip off most of their scripts and are known for doing so,

  3. This movie is a bomb. It blows my mind for real.

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    Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, quite great article.

  5. Another good one..this movie remind me of the Vincent Price movie “Tomb Of Ligeia”…yeess.

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