Ran Mi Lowo (Help Me)
by Daniel Baldwin
The synopsis for writer/director Akorede Alli’s Ran Mi Lowo describes a film about a young lady, Yemisi (Omowunmi Dada), in high school within Nigeria who is tasked with solving a mystery. That mystery? Exactly who is sexually assaulting her fellow female students, including her best friend, and threatening their lives if they expose who he is to anyone. Nearly all of the victims quit school shortly after their assault, with some committing suicide…or were they murdered?
Yemisi believes that the perpetrator has a connection to the school, but the administrator won’t take her concerns seriously. But who is doing it? Is it the lecherous gatekeeper who constantly hits on the female students as they arrive every morning? Is it one of the male teachers? And if it is one of the teachers, would anyone even believe Yemisi (or the victims) without hard evidence? After all, they’re respectable members of the community and how often do people actually believe women in these circumstances? If they won’t believe them, then what is Yemisi to do?
If you’re thinking that this Nigerian film is a hard-hitting drama…you’re wrong! As deathly serious as all of the above sounds, Ran Mi Lowo couldn’t be further from awards season-style brutal dramatic fare. In fact, its closest cinematic cousin is that of the ‘70s Italian thriller, aka the giallo!
Many of the classic gialli hallmarks are on display here. There’s the protagonist with a connection to the arts, as Yemisi wants to be an investigative journalist. She’s surrounded by an overly-horny cast of characters. There are occasional swirling camera movements and POV shots. We’re also presented with weird dolls, strange subplots with no direct connection to the main story, and even the director’s own hands being those that commit onscreen murder. Speaking of the the festishistic fiend, once revealed they even give an appropriately-twitchy psychotic performance and lay out a traumatic backstory befitting the subgenre.
This is not to say that Akorede Alli entirely nails the subgenre. The writing falls flat at times and while gialli fans can appreciate superfluous subplots and (intentional or not) wonky subtitles, those aren’t exactly the best things to copy from the decades-old subgenre. Still, it’s a surprising and intriguing debut from Alli. One worth seeing for those who appreciate wilder foreign genre fare.